When medical professionals talk about glaucoma, they often refer to it as the “silent thief of sight”. Which sounds scary, right? So what really is glaucoma and how do you get it?
Let’s talk about aqueous humor. This is the clear liquid found inside the front part of your eye. This liquid is what gives your eye its shape and keeps it “inflated”. The eye constantly is making small amounts of aqueous humor, an equal amount flows into the eye and an equal amount flows out through a small drain in the eye called the drainage angle. This process is what keeps pressure in the eye stable.
Imbalances in the creation and drainage of this clear fluid can lead to pressure build up in the eye, called intraocular pressure. This high pressure is a major part of glaucoma and can cause permanent damage to the optic nerve in the back of the eye, impairing vision sometimes permanently if left untreated.
So how do you get glaucoma?
There are two different types: open-angle and closed-angle.
Open angle glaucoma is the most common type. It happens over time, where the drainage angle starts to not drain completely, like a clogged drain of a sink. Because of this, eye pressure builds and damage to the optic nerve begins.
The scariest thing? This most common type, is painless and typically does not cause vision changes at first until damage is already done. Hence the importance of routine eye exams to catch the early signs.
Then there is closed-angle glaucoma (also called “angle-closure” or “narrow-angle” glaucoma). This type occurs when the iris is too close to the drainage angle and ends up clocking it. When the drainage gets blocked completely, eye pressure will rise quickly.
Here are the signs you are experiencing an acute closed-angle attack:
- You have extreme eye pain
- Your vision blurs suddenly
- Onset of a headache
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- You notice rainbow colored rings around lights
While the onset of symptoms can be quick, this type of glaucoma also develops slowly. Again, there are no symptoms at first and they don’t know they have it until the damage is severe and they have an acute attack.
Angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness if not managed and treated immediately.
So who is at risk?
Anyone is at risk. But some people are at a higher risk, this includes people who:
- -Age 40+
- -family history of glaucoma
- -are of African, Hispanic or Asian Heritage
- -have high eye pressure
- – are farsighted or nearsighted
- – have had an eye injury
- -use long-term steroid medications
- – have corneas with thin centers
- -show thinning of the optic nerve
- -those with diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure and/or poor blood circulation
Talk to your ophthalmologist about your risk of getting glaucoma and make sure you don’t miss your routine eye exam.