What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of optic nerve diseases that is typically associated with pressure in the eye resulting in damage to the optic nerve and ultimately vision loss. In most cases, glaucoma has no symptoms until its late stages. There are many types of glaucoma, some of which are particularly well treated with different types of laser eye surgery.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. and the leading cause of preventable blindness. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology Approximately 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have glaucoma. Glaucoma in most cases can only be detected by regular, routine eye exams. During a routine eye exam, your doctor will do a screening for glaucoma which consists of measuring your eye pressure and examining your optic nerves. If you are determined to be at risk for glaucoma, other testing may be required.

Everyone over age 60 has an increased risk for glaucoma. The risk of having glaucoma is also higher for individuals who have relatives with glaucoma. Heredity, ethnic and racial background may play a part in determining risk.

There are two broad categories of glaucoma: Open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma.


Open Angle Glaucoma

In this type of glaucoma, the drainage angle is open, but does not function properly. There are typically no symptoms of this type of glaucoma and it may only be detected by having a routine eye exam. Vision loss from open angle glaucoma tends to happen slowly over years and generally affects the peripheral vision first. If left untreated, it can result in total loss of vision.


Closed Angle Glaucoma

Closed angle glaucoma is diagnosed when aqueous fluid cannot reach the anterior chamber angle. Closed angle glaucoma is often painful and sudden, characterized by rapidly progressing visual loss and discomfort. Sometimes, closed angle glaucoma can occur due to scarring of the drainage angle. In these cases, no symptoms may be noted. Symptoms of closed angle glaucoma include eye pain and redness, blurred vision, headaches, vomiting, and the appearance of halos or rainbows. Some patients will have a narrow drainage angle that predisposes them to the development of closed angle glaucoma. Your doctor can easily diagnose this condition during your routine eye exam. If the drainage angle is very narrow and at high risk for closing, your doctor may recommend a laser procedure called a laser peripheral iridotomy (LPI).