In addition to seeking out regular medical and dental care, it is important to take care of your eyesight as you age.
One of the conditions eye doctors screen patients for is glaucoma, which can result in significant – even permanent – vision loss. Glaucoma generally occurs when your eye pressure is higher than normal, because fluid is not circulating or draining as it should.
Unfortunately, even surgical methods cannot cure vision loss from glaucoma once it has occurred, so it is important to have regular preventive eye exams. If there are signs of glaucoma during your examination, your eye doctor can come up with a treatment plan designed to limit vision loss.
Knowing what types of signs to look for can help you be proactive about managing your vision.
Different Types of Glaucoma
There are different kinds of glaucoma, with varying symptoms. In general, glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve in your eye, impacting vision. While glaucoma tends to affect people later in life (those age 60 or greater), it’s also possible for glaucoma to occur in children and young adults.
Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
Open-angle glaucoma develops slowly, often over a long period of time. People with open-angle glaucoma often do not realize they’re losing sight until the condition has progressed significantly.
When someone has open-angle glaucoma, their peripheral or side vision is affected first because the eye’s drainage canals become clogged. This increases the pressure level in the eye, leading to vision damage. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, primary open-angle glaucoma affects about four million Americans, although many of those affected are not yet aware of the problem.
Common Symptoms of Open-Angle Glaucoma
Generally, patients do not have much, if any, forewarning that they are developing open-angle glaucoma. If you notice blind spots in your peripheral vision, or in your central vision, or if you have developed “tunnel vision”, you may already have a more advanced form of open-angle glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma often affects both of a patient’s eyes, rather than just one of them.
Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma
Acute angle-closure glaucoma, also called “angle-closure glaucoma” or “narrow-angle glaucoma”, occurs when the angle where your cornea and iris meet is not as wide as it should be. Patients may suffer from a sudden increase or a more gradual increase in eye pressure which affects vision.
Common Symptoms of Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma
- Vision that is blurred or hazy
- Severe eye pain, accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting
- Sudden loss of vision
- Severe headaches and eye pain
- Seeing rainbow-colored circles or halos around lights
Less Common Types of Glaucoma
While open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma come with an increase in eye pressure, normal-tension glaucoma does not. However, a limited blood flow to the optic nerve can still cause vision loss.
It’s also possible to develop a type of glaucoma called “pigmentary glaucoma”, in which pigment granules from your iris block or slow the drainage of fluid from your eyes, limiting your vision over time.
When to Seek Medical Care
If you do experience any of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor as soon as possible. While treatment cannot reverse damage that has already been done, it can limit future damage.
You may not actually have any outward signs or symptoms as glaucoma develops in your eyes, but an eye doctor can conduct screening tests that can identify the condition.
If you have not developed glaucoma but have ocular hypertension (eye pressure that is greater than it should be), your ophthalmologist will want to treat and monitor your condition carefully. If glaucoma does later develop, it can be caught in its earliest stages.
Schedule regular visits with your eye doctor at least every four years, starting at age 40, unless you have other risk factors like a family history of glaucoma, diabetes or certain heart conditions. For those at a higher risk or those over age 65, The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends glaucoma screenings every two years.