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The eyes are one of the most important parts of our body. They need to be treated like any other part of the body with regular checkups and routine care because there are many diseases that can affect your eyes’ health and in some cases, the ability to see. Glaucoma is one of these diseases, but the effects are much more discreet, often being called “the silent thief of sight”.

Understanding what glaucoma is and the warning signs will help you better protect yourself from further damage if it runs in your family or you are experiencing symptoms. Here are the ins and outs of glaucoma:

What Exactly is It?

Glaucoma is a slow, progressive disease that damages your optic nerve because fluid builds up and causes high pressure in your eye. This pressure causes irreversible injury to your optic nerve, which can cause partial or permanent vision loss if not treated properly.

Types

There are multiple types of glaucoma, but the two most common are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

Open-angle, or wide-angle, glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma, which accounts for 90 percent of all glaucoma cases and affects about 3 million Americans, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

It occurs when your eye is not draining fluid properly, which causes increased pressure on the eyes. This is a gradual condition that is usually painless, which is why regular exams are especially important to catch this type of glaucoma early.

The second most common type of glaucoma is called angle-closure glaucoma. It is caused by blocked drainage canals because the drain space between your iris and cornea becomes too narrow. While it is much less common than the first type, it is much more painful and the effects are noticed quickly, which requires immediate medical attention.

The other less common types of glaucoma include:

  • Secondary Glaucoma
  • Normal-Tension Glaucoma
  • Pigmentary Glaucoma
  • Congenital Glaucoma

Risk Factors

There are certain factors that impact your chances of developing glaucoma. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, some of those factors include:

  • Being over the age of 40
  • Having glaucoma run in your family
  • Being of African, Asian or Hispanic descent
  • Having existing eye conditions and problems
  • Being farsighted or nearsighted
  • Having certain health problems including diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure or poor blood circulation
  • Using long-term steroid medication

Symptoms

Because open-angle glaucoma is slow to develop and practically painless, there are usually no symptoms at the beginning. If the disease continues to develop, blindspots can start to surface in your peripheral vision, but that can be years after developing glaucoma.

Routine checkups can help minimize your chances of the harmful development of glaucoma that can cause permanent damage to your vision.

With angle-closure glaucoma, symptoms are much more prevalent and require swift medical attention. Some of these symptoms include intense eye pain, blurred vision, vision loss, eye redness and seeing halos around lighting.

Diagnosis

Glaucoma tests are easy to do with a complete eye exam, specifically examining your optic nerve and testing your peripheral vision. Because the most common type of glaucoma has no obvious symptoms, regular eye exams are crucial in catching it early, especially if you fall into any of the risk factor categories.

Treatments

If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, there are an array of treatment types that may be used. The effects of glaucoma can not be reversed, but there are treatments to help reduce further damage.

  • Eye Drops: Prescription eye drops can be used to either reduce the amount of aqueous fluid produced by your eye or allow your eye to drain the fluid easier. Both help decrease the amount of pressure on your eyes, but there can be side effects including red eyes, stinging or itching, lung or heart issues, blurred vision and others.
  • Oral Medication: Taking glaucoma medication orally is an option to help drain fluid or lower the amount of fluid produced. This method can also produce similar side effects as prescription eye drops.
  • Laser Surgery: An ophthalmologist can perform surgery on glaucoma patients with either open-angle or angle-closure glaucoma. Common procedures include trabeculoplasty, opening your eyes to allow for more drainage, iridotomy, allowing the iris to drain fluid, and cyclophotocoagulation, which helps the middle of your eye produce less fluid.
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