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Glaucoma Eye Disease: Are You At Risk?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes optic nerve damage leading to vision loss. If glaucoma is not treated, it can lead to blindness depending on the number of risk factors that a patient has. It is estimated that over four million Americans have the disease but only half of those know they have it. Glaucoma occurs in approximately one in 50 people in the United States, and it typically does not cause any symptoms of pain or redness. Vision loss is usually not noticeable until advanced stages of the disease. Therefore, it is very important to schedule routine dilated eye exams every year, especially if you have certain risk factors for developing glaucoma.

People of African descent are six to eight times more likely to develop glaucoma than people of other racial or ethnic groups. In African Americans, glaucoma occurs at a younger age, is more severe, and is the number one cause of blindness. The prevalence of glaucoma in U.S. Hispanics has been reported at 6% in individuals 41 years of age and older, and it has been reported to be as high as 12% in those 80 years old and older. Normal tension glaucoma (glaucoma with normal eye pressure) has been reported at a higher rate in Asians. Advancing age is a major risk factor for all individuals, increasing the occurrence four to 10 times in African Americans and Hispanics over 40 years of age. 


Glaucoma Risk Factors

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

  • People who have a family history of glaucoma 
  • People who are Americans of African or Hispanic descent 
  • People who are 40 years of age and older 
  • People with high eye pressure 
  • People with thinner corneas (the cornea is the clear front surface of the eye) 

Additional risk factors: 

  • Diabetes
  • High amounts of nearsightedness 
  • Use of steroids on a regular basis for a long time 
  • Previous eye injury 
  • Family history of glaucoma


What can you do to reduce your risk? 

Have a dilated eye exam performed by your eye doctor every one to two years. Early detection and treatment is a key step in preventing permanent loss of vision due to glaucoma.


Common Types of Glaucoma

  • Primary Open Angle: This is the most common form of glaucoma. Usually problems due to this type of glaucoma happen when the pressure inside the eye increases and starts to damage the optic nerve, leading to loss of peripheral vision first.


  • Narrow Angles/Angle Closure: This type of glaucoma occurs when the drainage system of the eye (the angle) becomes too narrow and closes. The closing of the drainage system causes eye pressure to increase rapidly and this condition can actually cause symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, eye pain and blurry vision.


  • Normal Tension: Damage to the optic nerve can happen with this form of glaucoma, despite the fact that eye pressures measure in the normal range. It is thought that decreased blood flow to the back part of the eye is a contributing factor to the development of normal tension glaucoma.


  • Pigmentary: This condition happens when the iris pigment layer (the colored part of the eye) rubs against the intraocular lens inside the eye. Pigment is released and can clog the area of the eye in which eye fluid circulates. The blocking of the eye fluid system can lead to increased eye pressure and damage to the optic nerve.

Glaucoma Management and Treatment

If glaucoma is diagnosed, usually the first line of treatment to control the disease is through the prescription of topical eye drops that lower the pressure inside the eyes. If you are diagnosed with glaucoma and your eye care provider prescribes eye drops, it is very important to use the drops as prescribed. Not being compliant with the prescribed schedule could lead to vision loss and disease progression. More severe forms of glaucoma and certain types of the disease are managed through surgical techniques or laser treatment.


For more information:

Go to the Eye and Vision Care health topic.