What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve that is usually but not always related to elevated intraocular pressure. The two most common types of glaucoma are primary open angle glaucoma and angle closure glaucoma, also known as narrow angle glaucoma. Other subtypes of glaucoma include traumatic, pseudoexfoliation, pigmentary, neovascular and normal-pressure glaucoma where optic nerve damage develops despite low or normal intraocular pressures.

Glaucoma is often called the ‘silent thief of sight’ because the damage to vision is painless, gradual and most often without symptoms. It can slowly steal your eyesight without your even realizing that anything is wrong. Glaucoma affects an estimated 3 million Americans, and is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. Fortunately, if glaucoma is detected early and properly treated, most vision loss is preventable.

Primary Open Angle Glaucoma

Our eyes have a constant flow of fluid that fills the front chamber of the eye and then drains into the bloodstream. It drains through the ‘angle’ of the eye which is located between the cornea and iris. In primary open angle glaucoma, this drainage system does not function properly, causing a slow buildup of fluid pressure. When this happens, optic nerve damage may occur. As the optic nerve deteriorates, there is a loss of peripheral vision, most times without notice because of the gradual nature in which the deterioration progresses. Often it is only after irreparable vision loss has occurred that a person becomes aware they even have this disease.

Check out this video about open angle glaucoma.

Narrow Angle Glaucoma (also known as Angle Closure Glaucoma)

Narrow angle glaucoma results from a sudden, complete blockage of fluid drainage from the angle of the eye, causing a rapid and painful rise in pressure. It generally occurs in people over 40 and may cause vision loss rapidly if no treatment is given. Patients may experience severe eye pain accompanied by nausea, redness, swelling of the eye, loss of peripheral vision as well as blurred vision and halos. Symptoms of glaucoma usually last until the eye pressure is lowered. It is important to reduce the pressure quickly because permanent vision loss can occur if the pressure is not reduced in a timely manner.

Acute narrow angle glaucoma occurs more frequently at night, during emotional stress, and sometimes with the use of some over-the-counter cold medicines such as Dristan, Contac, or Benadryl. It is considered a medical emergency, so immediate professional treatment is needed to preserve sight. Also, if you have had acute angle glaucoma in one eye, you are at risk for an attack in the second eye. Your doctor is likely to recommend preventive treatment.

Check out this video below on Narrow Angle Glaucoma.

A simple test called gonioscopy can differentiate between the open angle and angle closure forms of glaucoma.

Treatment for both types of angle closure includes a simple in-office procedure called Laser Iridotomy, where a tiny opening in the iris is made to help open the closed angle. This procedure is also necessary for a condition called Narrow Angles, when the angle is narrow but there is no evidence of glaucoma.

If you have glaucoma and would like to be evaluated by our Fellowship Trained Glaucoma Specialist, Robert Friedman, MD, or one of our board certified eye physicians, please call toll free 1-866-865-2020 or contact The Eye Associates.