Glaucoma: Definition, Characteristics, Symptoms and Treatment

Text by Reddit user Blind Insider

The World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and the World Glaucoma Patients Association (WGPA) chose March 12 to commemorate World Glaucoma Day to raise awareness about this disease and the risks of not detecting and treating it in time.

I will talk about statistics, treatments, symptoms and definitions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) determined glaucoma to be the second cause of blindness in the world.

Approximately 4.5 million people have lost their sight due to this disease and it is estimated that during 2020, 80 million people lived with glaucoma.

Glaucoma can happen indistinctly to the elderly, young people or children, although there are greater risk factors in people with diabetes, severe myopia, those with an immediate family member who has it or being African-American.

Unfortunately, a cure for glaucoma has not yet been discovered and although treatment helps stop vision loss, there are people, who despite getting treatment, have lost their eyesight.

Eyesight cannot be regained and, being a chronic disease, the treatment must be maintained throughout the patient's life.

In 2002, Prevent Blindness America conducted a survey and some of the results were:

  1. Blindness is the number-three disease that people fear the most after cancer or heart disease.
  2. Only 20% of people knew that glaucoma was related to high pressure in the eye but believed that they could detect it through its symptoms and that it did not cause blindness.
  3. Finally, half of the respondents had heard about glaucoma but had no idea what it was.

Now let's define glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause decreased visual ability or blindness due to damage to the optic nerve, which is located at the back of the eye.

Usually, there are no early symptoms, so it is necessary to make periodic eyesight checkups through pupil dilation.

What types of glaucoma are there?

Among the main ones we can find open-angle glaucoma which is the most common, angle-closure glaucoma and congenital glaucoma.

These are also classified into primary and secondary. The first refers to those where doctors do not find a cause for the condition or disease and the second refers to those that are a result of another disease.

Open-angle glaucoma.

It is the most common type of glaucoma and, in the United States alone, nine out of every ten people with glaucoma have this type of condition.

Many don't realize their condition until they experience very advanced symptoms and it is not actually known what causes it but it is believed to be due to high pressure in the eye.

When the fluid in the eye does not drain properly, it accumulates pressure and this damages the optic nerve. It is known that high blood pressure can also develop into glaucoma.

Normal tension glaucoma.

It happens to patients with normal eye pressure; it is also a type of open-angle glaucoma and the people who are most at risk are those of Japanese origin, people with low blood pressure, heart problems or those with immediate-family members who already have it.

The causes for this type of glaucoma are also unknown but treatments to reduce eye pressure may help improve the outcome of the disease.

Angle-closure glaucoma.

It is the most dangerous type of glaucoma because if not treated in time, the patients can lose their eyesight within a couple of days.

In this type of glaucoma, the outer edge of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye, blocks the drainage of fluid causing it to accumulate quickly and causing a rise in eye pressure.

If you experience severe eye pain, eye irritation, blurred vision or stomach pain and nausea it is important that you go to the emergency room for a check-up.

Congenital glaucoma.

In this type of glaucoma, babies are born with an eye problem that prevents them from draining fluid from the eye.

This type of glaucoma is very rare, occurring only in 1 out of 10,000 babies born in the United States.

Parents may tell if their baby has congenital glaucoma if the baby's eyes are cloudy, if there is excessive tearing, if there is sensitivity to light, or if their eyes are larger than normal.

For this type of glaucoma, surgery can help babies prevent vision loss over the years. Any other type of glaucoma that develops during childhood is known as pediatric glaucoma.

Some secondary types of glaucoma are:

  • Neovascular glaucoma
  • Pigmentary glaucoma
  • Exfoliation glaucoma
  • Uveitic glaucoma

Symptoms of glaucoma.

Although the symptoms depend on the type of glaucoma and the stage in which it is, we can mention the following:

  • In early stages, absence of symptoms.
  • Blind spots in peripheral vision also known as lateral.
  • Decrease in or difficulty seeing things with central vision.
  • Severe eye pain or headaches.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Blurred vision or seeing colored rings around lights.
  • Redness of the eyes.

Treatments for glaucoma.

  • Eye drops with prostaglandins that increase the outflow of eye fluid to reduce pressure.
  • Beta-blocker medications to reduce eye-fluid production.
  • Eye-pressure inhibitors.
  • Agents to increase fluid flow in the eye.
  • Laser trabeculoplasty when oral or drop medications have not stopped the disease. This procedure is done in at doctor's office.
  • Trabeculectomy or filtration surgery.  This is a surgical procedure that is performed in the operating room. Here the doctor makes an opening in the white part of the eye to create another filtering outlet.
  • Drain ducts.  A procedure in which the surgeon inserts small ducts to drain excess fluid into the eye.

The doctor may suggest several combined treatments to improve the condition and after any procedure, one should continue with regular check-ups. New tests may be necessary to see if the disease is still progressing.

Finally, we want to remind you that, like with most eye diseases, the most important thing is prevention. Having a yearly checkup is paramount.

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