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What is Glaucoma

In short, glaucoma is a build up of pressure within the eye that causes vision loss and blindness by damaging the nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve. People who have elevated eye pressure are at increased risk for glaucoma. But each type of glaucoma is different — and for some, experts are still learning about the causes.

Most people are unaware they have symptoms until they start losing their eye sight, and often do not notice any vision loss right away.

Diagnosing glaucoma is not always easy, and careful evaluation of the optic nerve continues to be essential to diagnosis and treatment. Doctors look at many factors before making decisions about your treatment. If your condition is particularly difficult to diagnose or treat, you may be referred to a glaucoma specialist. A second opinion is always wise if you or your doctor become concerned about your diagnosis or your progress.

If you have high risk factors for glaucoma such as; diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of glaucoma, you should see an eye doctor now and determine how often to have subsequent eye exams.

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. However, certain groups are at higher risk than others.

  • African Americans- After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and people of African descent
  • People Over 60
  • Family Members with Glaucoma
  • Older Hispanics
  • Steroid Users

Other Risk Factors

  • Injury
  • High myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Hypertension
  • Central corneal thickness less than .5 mm

Types of Glaucoma

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type in the United States, where 9 in 10 people with glaucoma, have the open-angle type.

Over time, the pressure damages the optic nerve, which affects your vision. This can eventually lead to blindness — in fact, open-angle glaucoma causes almost 2 in 10 cases of blindness in African Americans. People with high blood pressure are also at higher risk for this type.

– Normal-tension glaucoma

This is a type of open-angle glaucoma that happens in people with normal eye pressure. About 1 in 3 people with open-angle glaucoma have the normal-tension type.

You may be at higher risk for normal-tension glaucoma if you:

  • Are of Japanese ancestry
  • Have a family history of normal-tension glaucoma
  • Have had certain heart problems, like an irregular heartbeat
  • Have low blood pressure

Angle-closure glaucoma

Also called narrow-angle or acute glaucoma, is a medical emergency. Go to the doctor or emergency room immediately if you suddenly have:

  • Intense pain in your eye
  • Nausea
  • Red eyes
  • Blurred vision

In this type of glaucoma, the outer edge of the iris (the colored part of your eye) blocks fluid from draining out of the front of the eye. The fluid builds up quickly, causing a sudden increase in eye pressure. If it’s not treated, angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness in just a few days. 

There is another type of angle-closure glaucoma. Called slow or chronic angle-closure glaucoma, symptoms happen more slowly or might not cause any symptoms. The doctor treats this type with medicines, laser treatments, or surgery.

Congenital glaucoma

About 1 in 10,000 babies in the United States have Congenital glaucoma. This defect (problem) in the eye keeps fluid from draining normally. In these cases, you will usually notice the symptoms right away. Children with congenital glaucoma:

  • Have cloudy eyes
  • Are sensitive to light
  • Make extra tears
  • May have eyes that are larger than normal

Sometimes glaucoma is caused by another medical condition — this is called secondary glaucoma, which includes-

  • Neovascular glaucoma
  • Pigmentary glaucoma
  • Exfoliation glaucoma- (sometimes called pseudoexfoliation)
  • Uveitic glaucoma

Health issues that can cause secondary glaucoma include:

  • Complications from medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Cataract
  • Certain eye tumors
  • Inflammation of your eye
  • Serious eye injuries
  • A reaction to steroids used to treat some diseases
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