Glaucoma is a complex eye condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a disease that gradually steals sight without warning and often without symptoms. The importance of understanding glaucoma is essential to your eye health.
Glaucoma is not a single disease but an umbrella term for a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. It primarily comes in two types: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. The "angle" in both types refers to the drainage angle inside the eye that controls the outflow of the aqueous humor, a fluid that nourishes the eye.
Open-angle glaucoma, also known as chronic glaucoma, is the most common form. It happens gradually when the eye's drainage canals become clogged over time. The inner eye pressure (also known as intraocular pressure or IOP) rises because the correct amount of fluid can't drain out of the eye. This elevated eye pressure damages the optic nerve.
On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma, also called closed-angle glaucoma or acute glaucoma, occurs when the iris bulges forward, narrowing or blocking the drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris. As a result, the fluid can't circulate through the eye, leading to a sudden increase in eye pressure.
The exact cause of glaucoma remains unknown. However, researchers believe that it involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In most cases, an increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) is often associated with the onset of the disease. This increase in pressure happens when the eye's drainage system becomes inefficient over time, or it can occur suddenly, for instance, if the iris blocks it.
However, it's essential to note that glaucoma can also occur in individuals with normal eye pressure. This condition is known as normal-tension glaucoma. The cause of normal-tension glaucoma is not well understood, but researchers believe that those with a sensitive optic nerve, or having reduced blood supply to the optic nerve due to a condition like atherosclerosis, may be at increased risk.
Additionally, certain factors can increase the risk of developing glaucoma. These include age, family history of glaucoma, certain ethnic backgrounds, medical conditions such as diabetes, and prolonged use of corticosteroid medications.
Glaucoma is often called the "silent thief of sight," as the most common type, open-angle glaucoma, typically has no symptoms until significant vision loss occurs. In the early stages, glaucoma usually has no symptoms, and your vision stays normal. As the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma may notice their peripheral vision gradually failing.
Angle-closure glaucoma, although less common, is generally more symptomatic than open-angle glaucoma. Symptoms can be mild, like blurred vision, or severe, such as headaches, eye pain, red eyes, nausea, and seeing rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights.
Given the silent nature of glaucoma in its early stages, regular eye check-ups are crucial, especially if you are over the age of 40 or have a family history of the disease. An eye doctor can detect the early signs of the disease, such as subtle changes to your optic nerve and increased eye pressure, even before symptoms occur.
However, if you experience any severe symptoms, such as sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision, or seeing halos around lights, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention. These could be the signs of acute angle-closure glaucoma, a medical emergency that can cause blindness if not treated promptly.
Glaucoma is a complex disease that requires a comprehensive understanding of its types, causes, and symptoms. Although irreversible, early detection and treatment can significantly slow down its progression. Regular eye examinations are key to early detection and maintaining good eye health.
For more information on types, causes, and symptoms of glaucoma, visit Takhar Eye Care at our Bakersfield, California office. Call (661) 397-2020 to schedule an appointment today.