Open-angle glaucoma; Chronic glaucoma; Chronic open-angle glaucoma; Primary open-angle glaucoma; Closed-angle glaucoma; Narrow-angle glaucoma; Angle-closure glaucoma; Acute glaucoma; Secondary glaucoma; Congenital glaucoma; Vision loss - glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that can damage the optic nerve. This nerve sends the images you see to your brain.
Most often, optic nerve damage is caused by increased pressure in the eye. This is called intraocular pressure.
Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in the United States. There are four major types of glaucoma:
The front part of the eye is filled with a clear fluid called aqueous humor. This fluid is made in an area behind the colored part of the eye (iris). It leaves the eye through channels where the iris and cornea meet. This area is called the anterior chamber angle, or the angle. The cornea is the clear covering on the front of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and angle.
Anything that slows or blocks the flow of this fluid will cause pressure to build up in the eye.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma.
Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the fluid is suddenly blocked and cannot flow out of the eye. This causes a quick, severe rise in eye pressure.
Secondary glaucoma occurs due to a known cause. Both open- and closed-angle glaucoma can be secondary when caused by something known. Causes include:
Congenital glaucoma occurs in babies.
Too much pressure is almost never a good thing. When it's bearing down on you from work or family responsibilities, pressure can stress you out. But when pressure is building in your eye from a disease called glaucoma, it can cause permanent blindness if it's not treated. Glaucoma involves the clear fluid in the front part of your eye, which is called the aqueous humor. Your eye constantly makes this fluid, which then drains out through a chamber in the front of the eye. When you have glaucoma, the fluid becomes blocked so it can't drain out of your eye. As the fluid builds up, it causes the pressure to rise. That pressure eventually damages the optic nerve, the important nerve which sends images to your brain and allows you to see. There are four different types of glaucoma. The most common type is called open-angle glaucoma. Although no one knows for sure what causes it, open-angle glaucoma tends to run in families. In people with this form, the pressure rises slowly over time. Another type of glaucoma appears in babies at birth, it's called congenital glaucoma. Certain drugs and eye diseases can cause yet another form of the disease, called secondary glaucoma. But probably the most serious form of the disease is closed-angle glaucoma. It occurs when the angle becomes suddenly blocked, causing pressure in the eye to rise sharply. This is an emergency situation. Without treatment, you can lose sight very quickly. Because most people don't have any symptoms of glaucoma until they've already lost sight, the best way to diagnose it is by having regular eye exams. The eye doctor will dilate, or widen your pupil to get a better view of your eye. Your doctor may also do a test called tonometry to check your eye pressure, and take a photo or laser image of your optic nerve to make sure it's healthy. The main treatment for glaucoma is eye drops to reduce the pressure inside your eyes. If drops can't control your pressure, or you have closed-angle glaucoma and your pressure rises very quickly, you'll probably need surgery, or laser therapy to open up a new drainage channel in your eye. Your best defense against glaucoma is a good offense. See your eye doctor for a complete eye exam before you turn 40, or even sooner if you have a family history of glaucoma. That way, your doctor can spot the disease before it can steal your sight.
Symptoms may come and go at first, or steadily become worse. You may notice:
Symptoms are most often noticed when the child is a few months old.
The only way to diagnose glaucoma is by having a complete eye exam.
Eye pressure is different at different times of the day. Eye pressure can even be normal in some people with glaucoma. So you will need other tests to confirm glaucoma. They may include:
The goal of treatment is to reduce your eye pressure. Treatment depends on the type of glaucoma that you have.
If drops alone do not work, you may need other treatment:
ACUTE ANGLE GLAUCOMA
An acute angle-closure attack is a medical emergency. You can become blind in a few days if you are not treated.
If you have secondary glaucoma, treating the cause may help your symptoms go away. Other treatments also may be needed.
Open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured. You can manage it and keep your sight by following your provider's directions.
Closed-angle glaucoma is a medical emergency. You need treatment right away to save your vision.
Babies with congenital glaucoma usually do well when surgery is done early.
How you do with secondary glaucoma depends on what is causing the condition.
If you have severe eye pain or a sudden loss of vision, get immediate medical help. These may be signs of closed-angle glaucoma.
You cannot prevent open-angle glaucoma. Most people have no symptoms. But you can help prevent vision loss.
If you are at risk for closed-angle glaucoma, your provider may recommend treatment before you have an attack to help prevent eye damage and vision loss.
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Last reviewed on: 8/11/2015
Reviewed by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Internal review and update on 09/01/2016 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.