What is Glaucoma?

            Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye diseases that lead to damage of the optic nerve. The optic nerve is composed of over 1.2 million axons that carry information from the eye to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged you can lose your vision.

            Damage to the optic nerve is often caused by increased eye pressure (intraocular pressure). This can happen when extra fluid builds up in the eye from overproduction or from a defect in the normal draining system. There are also some types of glaucoma that have normal intraocular pressure and still present with damage to the optic nerve.

            Glaucoma can also be seen after an eye injury, eye surgery, or from an eye tumor. There are also medicines (corticosteroids) that have been associated with glaucoma.

            The risk for glaucoma rises after age 40 and even more quickly after age 70. Race is also a factor. African Americans are more likely than Caucasians to get the disease. Other related risk factors for glaucoma are diabetes or a family history of glaucoma.

            Finding and treating glaucoma early is important to prevent blindness. If you are at high risk for the disease, be sure to get checked by an ophthalmologist even if you have no symptoms.


            Initially, individuals with open angle glaucoma may not notice any symptoms. As it progresses, glaucomatous optic neuropathy can lead to loss of side (peripheral) vision. If the disease is not treated, vision loss extends to the center and can eventually lead to complete loss of vision.

            Symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma can be mild and consist of blurred vision that last only for a short time. Severe signs of closed-angle glaucoma include longer-lasting episodes of blurred vision or pain in or around the eye. It can also present with colored halos around lights, red eyes, or nausea and vomiting.


            The diagnosis of glaucoma starts with a detailed history by your ophthalmologist. This is followed by a complete eye exam and a vision/eye pressure check. A special lens is used to view the angle system and a dilated exam is performed to view the optic nerve. Visual field testing and nerve fiber layer assessment with various machines can aid in the diagnosis of glaucoma.


            Most glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops. Compliance is important and following a daily eye drop regimen is imperative for best results. Other treatment options include laser treatment or surgery to lower pressure.

            In adults, treatment can't bring back vision that has been lost, but it can keep it from getting worse. Treatment aims to stop more damage to the optic nerve by lowering the pressure in the eyes.


            Most glaucoma can be adequately treated with life long administrations of eye drops. As long as these drops are taken, the progression of glaucoma can be halted. In more severe cases, surgery may be the only option to stop more vision loss from occurring.

            Learning that someone has glaucoma can be difficult since much of his or her vision may be gone by the time it is detected. With counseling and training, most can find ways to keep their quality of life. Vision aids, such as large-print items and special video systems, can help to cope with reduced eyesight. There are also many support groups that can help with tough tasks.