The Glaucoma Research Foundation describes the disease as damage to the optic nerve that results in irreversible and progressive loss of vision. It is the second leading cause of blindness behind cataract issues. Although glaucoma is incurable and people cannot regain the vision they have lost, it’s possible to halt the progression of the disease with medication, surgery, or both. If you receive a diagnosis of glaucoma, you will need to remain under an opthamologists care for monitoring and treatment for the remainder of your life.
Understanding the Different Types of Glaucoma
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma and it usually doesn’t present any warning signs until the disease is quite advanced. It develops slowly over time and people usually don’t experience any loss of vision for several years. This is one reason why regular vision care appointments are so essential. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist may diagnose open-angle glaucoma years before you notice its symptoms.
When you have open-angle glaucoma, the angle where the cornea and iris of your eye meet is normal. The problem is that the drainage canals in your eyes develop a blockage over time. This damages the optic nerve of your eyes and puts increased pressure on their internal structure. Approximately four million people in the United States have open-angle glaucoma. Treatment typically consists of using prescription eye drops and careful monitoring.
Angle-closure glaucoma, also known as narrow-angle glaucoma or acute glaucoma, is rare. It differs from open-angle glaucoma in that people typically feel pressure in their eyes quite suddenly. The sudden onset occurs due to a blockage in the drainage canals of the eyes. When you have this type of glaucoma, the iris in your eyes is not as open or wide as it should be. This causes your pupils to enlarge too fast or too wide, especially when you enter a dark room.
Common symptoms associated with angle-closure glaucoma include:
- Blurred vision
- Eye pain
- Seeing rainbows form around lights in the nighttime hours
Surgery is the most common form of treatment for this type of glaucoma. You may undergo a traditional or laser procedure to remove a small portion of the edge of the iris. This unblocks the drainage canals in your eyes and allows the excess fluid to drain properly. Surgery is successful for most people, but it’s still important to receive regular care from an eye doctor since you could still develop a chronic form of glaucoma.
Normal-tension glaucoma, also known as normal-pressure glaucoma or normal-pressure glaucoma, involves damage to the optic nerve. However, the pressure in the eye is normal or only slightly above average. The risk of developing normal-tension glaucoma is higher in people with Japanese ancestry as well as those with a history of irregular heart rhythm or another type of systemic heart disease.
Normal-tension glaucoma can be hard to diagnose because eye pressure readings don’t give any indication that something is abnormal. An ophthalmologist, who is a doctor specializing in eye diseases, needs to inspect the color of the optic nerve and the shape of the pupil with a special scope to notice any problems. Possible treatments for this type of glaucoma include medication, laser surgery, and traditional surgery.
The other types of glaucoma are all variations of open-angle or angle-closure glaucoma. These include:
- Congenital/childhood glaucoma: This term describes children born with a form of glaucoma. The incidence is approximately one in 10,000.
- Irido corneal entothelial syndrome (ICE): A rare type that usually affects only one eye, ICE causes cells from the cornea’s back surface to spread over the surface of the iris and the drainage tissues of the eye.
- Neovascular glaucoma: When the iris develops abnormal blood vessels, they can grow over the drainage channels of the eye.
- Pigmentary glaucoma: The definition of this sub-type is when the pigment granules in the back of the iris float into the clear fluid on the inside of your eye.
- Pseudoexfoliative glaucoma: This type occurs when a flaky material peels off the outer layer of the lens of your eye.
- Secondary glaucoma: This is when another disease contributes to the increased eye pressure associated with glaucoma.
- Traumatic glaucoma: As its name suggests, traumatic glaucoma occurs due to an injury to the eye.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
The Glaucoma Research Foundation provides this list of common risk factors:
- Abnormal corneal thickness
- African American descent: Glaucoma is eight times more common among African Americans than Caucasians
- Age over 60
- Asian descent: People of Japanese heritage are at highest risk for developing normal-tension glaucoma while people with any Asian background have an increased risk of angle-closure glaucoma.
- Hereditary: Parents can pass the gene for open-angle glaucoma to their children. The risk of developing the disease is four to nine times higher for people who have an immediate family member who already has it.
- People of Hispanic descent over age 60
- Trauma: Blunt injuries can cause immediate symptoms of glaucoma while less direct injuries can cause open-angle glaucoma many years later.
- Use of steroids: People who use very high doses of steroids to control asthma have a 40 percent increased risk of developing glaucoma.
Early Detection is Critical
Even if you have perfect vision, it’s important to receive regular eye exams to rule out glaucoma or other diseases. The Glaucoma Research Foundation recommends that people under age 40 visit an optometrist every two to four years. This should move to every one-to-three years until age 55, one to two years until age 65, and every six months to one year thereafter.
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