Glaucoma refers to a category of eye disorders often associated with a buildup of internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure or IOP), which can damage the eye's optic nerve.

Glaucoma typically affects your peripheral vision first, so that you can lose a great deal of vision before you are aware that something is wrong. If uncontrolled or left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness.

Signs and symptoms of glaucoma

Glaucoma is often referred to as the "silent thief of sight," because most types typically cause no pain and produce no symptoms.

But there are other forms of the disease where symptoms of blurry vision, halos around lights, intense eye pain, nausea, and vomiting occur suddenly. If you have these symptoms, make sure you immediately see an eye care practitioner or doctor.

What causes glaucoma?

Just as a ball needs air pressure to maintain its shape, the eye needs internal fluid pressure to maintain its shape and ability to see. The cause of glaucoma is generally a failure of the eye to maintain an appropriate balance between the amount of fluid produced inside the eye and the amount that drains away. Reasons for this imbalance vary depending on the type of glaucoma.

Types of glaucoma

There are various types of glaucoma, some of which develop gradually without the patient being aware of it, others which occur suddenly, and some being present at birth.

How is glaucoma detected?

During routine eye exams, a tonometer is used to measure your intraocular pressure (IOP). An abnormally high IOP reading indicates a problem with the amount of fluid inside the eye. Either the eye is producing too much fluid, or it is not draining properly.

Another method for detecting or monitoring glaucoma is the use of instruments to create images of the eye's optic nerve and then repeating this imaging over time to see if changes to the optic nerve are taking place, which might indicate progressive glaucoma damage.

Visual field testing is another way to monitor whether blind spots are developing in your field of vision from glaucoma damage to the optic nerve. Visual field testing involves staring straight ahead into a machine and clicking a button when you notice a blinking light in your peripheral vision.

Instruments such as an ophthalmoscope also may be used to help your optometrist view internal eye structures, to make sure nothing unusual interferes with the outflow and drainage of eye fluids

Glaucoma treatments

Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment for glaucoma can involve the use of medications, conventional surgery, laser surgery or a combination of these treatments. Medicated eye drops aimed at lowering IOP usually are tried first to control glaucoma.

Early detection is key!

Whatever the treatment, early diagnosis is the best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma. See your eye care practitioner routinely for a complete eye examination, including a check of your IOP.

People at high risk for glaucoma due to elevated intraocular pressure, a family history of glaucoma, advanced age or an unusual optic nerve appearance may need more frequent visits to the optometrist.

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