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Glaucoma


Topic Overview

Picture of the eye (cross section)

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. This nerve carries information from the eye to the brain. When the nerve is damaged, you can lose your vision.

Glaucoma is one of the most common causes of legal blindness in the world. At first, people with glaucoma lose side (peripheral) vision. But if the disease isn't treated, vision loss may get worse. This can lead to total blindness over time.

There are three types of glaucoma.

  • Open-angle glaucoma (OAG) is the most common form in the United States and Canada. (In other parts of the world, it's less common.) It usually affects both eyes at the same time. Your vision gradually gets worse. But it gets worse so slowly that you may not notice it.
  • Closed-angle glaucoma (CAG) isn't very common in the U.S. and Canada. It usually affects one eye at time. CAG can happen suddenly and be a medical emergency.
  • Congenital glaucoma is a rare form of glaucoma that some infants have at birth. Some children and young adults can also get a type of the disease.

What causes glaucoma?

The exact cause isn't known. Experts think that increased pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) may cause the nerve damage in many cases. But some people who have glaucoma have normal eye pressure.

Some people get glaucoma after an eye injury or after eye surgery. Some medicines (corticosteroids) that are used to treat other diseases may also cause glaucoma.

What are the symptoms?

If you have OAG, the only symptom you are likely to notice is loss of vision. You may not notice this until it is serious. That's because the eye that is less affected makes up for the loss at first. Side vision is often lost before central vision.

Symptoms of CAG can be mild, with symptoms like blurred vision that last only for a short time. Severe signs of CAG include longer-lasting episodes of blurred vision or pain in or around the eye. You may also see colored halos around lights, have red eyes, or feel sick to your stomach and vomit.

In congenital glaucoma, signs can include watery eyes and sensitivity to light. Your baby may rub his or her eyes, squint, or keep the eyes closed much of the time.

How is glaucoma diagnosed?

Glaucoma can be diagnosed:

  • During routine exams with your eye doctor.
  • When you go to your family doctor because of an eye problem. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam. If your doctor thinks you have glaucoma, you will then need to see an eye doctor for eye exams and tests.

How is it treated?

Glaucoma can't be cured. But there are things you can do to help stop more damage to the optic nerve. To help keep your vision from getting worse, you'll probably need to use medicine (most likely eyedrops) every day. You may also need laser treatment or surgery. You'll also need regular checkups with your eye doctor.

How do you cope with glaucoma?

If you have vision loss, you can keep your quality of life. You can use vision aids, such as large-print items and special video systems, to help you cope with reduced eyesight. Support groups and counseling can also help you deal with vision loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about glaucoma:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with glaucoma:

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