Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, vital for good vision. This damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure in the eye. It is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over 60. It can occur at any age, but more often in older age.

Many forms of glaucoma have no warning symptoms. In addition, the effect is so gradual that you may notice a change in vision once the condition is in an advanced stage.

Because vision loss from glaucoma cannot be restored, it is essential to have regular eye exams that include measuring the eye pressure so that a diagnosis can be made in the early stages. If glaucoma is detected early, vision loss can be slowed or prevented.


The signs and symptoms of glaucoma vary depending on the type and stage of your condition. For example:

Open-angle glaucoma

  • Flat blind spots in side (peripheral) or central vision, often in both eyes
  • Tunnel vision in advanced stages


Acute angle-closure glaucoma

  • Severe headache
  • Eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Halo around lights
  • Eye redness


If left untreated, glaucoma will eventually cause blindness. Even with treatment, about 15 percent of people with glaucoma will go blind in at least one eye by age 20.

When to see a doctor

You should go to the emergency room or the office of an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) immediately if you notice any symptoms of acute angle-closure glaucoma, such as a severe headache, eye pain, and blurred vision.

Glaucoma is the result of damage to the optic nerve. As this nerve gradually deteriorates, blind spots form in your field of vision. For reasons doctors don’t fully understand, this nerve damage is usually related to increased pressure in the eye.

Increased eye pressure is caused by the accumulation of fluid (aqueous fluid) that flows into the eye. This internal fluid usually drains through a tissue called the trabecular meshwork at the angle where the iris and cornea meet. When the liquid is overproduced, or the drainage system does not work correctly, the fluid cannot drain at its standard rate, and the eye pressure increases.

Glaucoma usually runs in families. Scientists have identified genes associated with high eye pressure and damage to the optic nerve in some people.

Types of glaucoma include:

Open-angle glaucoma

is the most common form of the disease. The drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris remains open, but the trabecular meshwork is partially blocked. It causes a gradual increase in the pressure in the eye. This pressure damages the optic nerve. However, it happens so slowly that you can lose your vision before realizing the problem.

Angle-closure glaucoma

occurs when the iris bulges forward to narrow or block the drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris. As a result, fluid cannot circulate through the eye, and the pressure increases. Some people have narrow drainage angles, increasing their risk for angle-closure glaucoma.

Normal tension glaucoma

In normal-tension glaucoma, your optic nerve is damaged, even if your eye pressure is normal. As a result, you may have a sensitive optic nerve, or less blood can reach your optic nerve. This restricted blood flow can be caused by atherosclerosis – a buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries – or other conditions that impair circulation.

Glaucoma in children

It can be present from birth or develop in the first years of life. Drainage blockages or an underlying medical condition can cause damage to the optic nerve.

Pigmentary glaucoma

In pigmentary glaucoma, pigment granules from the iris accumulate in the drainage channels, slowing or blocking the fluid leaving the eye. Activities such as running sometimes stir up the pigment granules, depositing them on the trabecular meshwork and causing intermittent increases in pressure.

Risk factors

Because chronic forms of glaucoma can destroy vision before any signs or symptoms appear, be aware of these risk factors:

  • High intraocular pressure (intraocular pressure)
  • Age over 60 years
  • The presence of the disease in the family history
  • Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sickle cell disease
  • Corneas that are thin in the center
  • Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid drugs, especially eye drops


  • Have regular dilated eye examinations. Regular comprehensive eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages before significant damage occurs. 
  • Know your family’s eye health history. If you are at increased risk, you may need more frequent screening.
  • Exercise safely. Regular, moderate exercise can help prevent glaucoma by reducing pressure in the eye.
  • Use prescribed eye drops regularly. Glaucoma eye drops can significantly reduce the risk of high eye pressure progressing to glaucoma. However, for the eye drops prescribed by your doctor to be effective, you must use them regularly, even if you have no symptoms. 
  • Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wear eye protection when using power tools or playing tennis.

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