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What Does Glaucoma Look Like?

Glaucoma is a common eye condition that can cause blindness, so it’s only natural to do what you can to keep your eyes healthy for years to come. This is especially true because there’s currently no cure for glaucoma — but there are ways to help slow the progression and keep the symptoms of glaucoma from getting worse.

Read on to learn more about glaucoma, including what it looks like, what causes it, and what your treatment options are.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma isn’t a single condition — instead, it’s a group of conditions that can cause damage to the optic nerve. This nerve is incredibly important, as it opens up communication between your brain and your eyes. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to see clearly.

Normally, optic nerve damage is related to high blood pressure. This is why changes in vision can be a sign of high blood pressure. However, glaucoma can show up even if you have normal pressure. If left untreated, it can eventually lead to vision loss and other signs of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is typically caused by fluid buildup in the eye. There’s always fluid in the eye, but sometimes, the eye’s drainage system doesn’t work properly, or fluid production is too much for the drainage system to handle. Unfortunately, doctors aren’t sure what causes these issues in the first place.

What Are the Types of Glaucoma?

There are a few different types of glaucoma, and each affects the eye differently and has different symptoms. Here are some of the main differences between each of these eye diseases.

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is one of the most common types of glaucoma, with about 57.5 million people affected by it worldwide. It’s also one of the leading causes of blindness in African Americans.

It occurs when the main fluid drainage angle between the cornea and the iris stays open, but the rest of the drainage system doesn’t work properly. This causes fluid buildup and a slow increase in symptoms as the condition progresses, although you typically won’t see symptoms in the early stages.

Symptoms of middle and late-stage open-angle glaucoma include:

  • Blind spots in your peripheral vision (or side vision)
  • Loss of visual clarity in your central vision

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

This form of glaucoma is an eye condition where the outer edge of the iris blocks the main fluid drainage point in the eye. This causes the eye to build up very quickly, and the resulting eye pressure can cause blindness in just a few days without treatment.

Angle-closure glaucoma happens very quickly and is considered a medical emergency. If you notice any symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma, it’s important to seek medical help right away.

Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include:

  • Headache
  • Eye pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing halos around light sources

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

Normal tension glaucoma is a type of open-angle glaucoma that occurs without increased pressure in the eyes. However, optometrists have found that treatments that lower eye pressure may help slow the disease.

Congenital Glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma happens when babies are born with a physical problem that prevents the eye from draining properly. The condition is rare but is easy to catch most of the time.

Symptoms of congenital glaucoma in babies include:

  • Dull or cloudy eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Tear leakage
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision
  • Nearsightedness
  • Headache

Secondary Glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma is a broad term that describes glaucoma that occurs because of another medical condition or event.

Types of secondary glaucoma include:

  • Neovascular Glaucoma: This condition is usually caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, and involves extra blood vessels blocking the main drainage point in the eye.
  • Pigmentary Glaucoma: This happens when pigment flakes off of the iris and blocks the main drainage point.
  • Exfoliation Glaucoma: This is a type of open-angle glaucoma caused by exfoliation syndrome. This can cause even higher intraocular pressure than normal glaucoma.
  • Uveitic Glaucoma: This is a type of glaucoma that is caused by uveitis, a condition that causes irritation and swelling in the eye.

Secondary glaucoma can also be caused by eye injuries, cataracts, and tumors.

Who Is at Risk for Glaucoma?

As we mentioned before, doctors and ophthalmologists aren’t quite sure what the root cause of glaucoma is. However, there are a few factors that could put you at a higher risk of getting glaucoma.

Risk factors include the following:

  • High eye pressure
  • Being over 55 years of age
  • Having Black, Asian, or Hispanic ancestry
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Some medical conditions
  • Eye injury
  • Taking ocular steroids like eye drops for a long time
  • Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Certain types of eye surgery, like cataract surgery

What Does Glaucoma Look Like?

When it comes to glaucoma, you’re generally more likely to feel it before you see it. In most cases, you may not even catch the glaucoma until it’s already affected your vision — however, when you do start to show physical symptoms, they could include a hazy cornea, a bulging iris, or redness in the eye.

As far as what you’ll see, it’s hard to say, as glaucoma can present differently depending on what type of glaucoma you have. In most cases, you might experience blurriness, blind spots, and tunnel vision (this may look more like loss of peripheral vision).

These might feel like early signs of glaucoma since they may be the first symptoms you notice. However, these are signs of middle to late-stage glaucoma and, unfortunately, there’s currently no way to reverse it. If you suspect you may be experiencing signs of glaucoma, consult your optometrist for professional advice.

Can You Prevent Glaucoma?

Ultimately, there’s no direct way to prevent glaucoma, especially since we don’t know exactly what causes it. That said, you may be able to help lower your risk of glaucoma and support your overall eye health.

Here are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of eye damage from glaucoma:

  • Get regular eye exams from your eye doctor
  • Take steroids carefully
  • Eat an eye-healthy diet
  • Avoid adding unnecessary pressure to the eyes
  • Tell your eye doctor about any blood pressure medications
  • Wear glasses with UV protection
  • Protect your eyes from injury

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to cure glaucoma once you have it. Any loss of vision you get from glaucoma is there to stay, which is why catching it early and practicing good eye care is essential. That said, there are some steps that doctors can take to help stop the disease from progressing.

Treatment options include:

  • Medicated eye drops
  • Laser eye treatment
  • Eye surgery

The Bottom Line

Glaucoma is an eye condition that usually sets in slowly and can ultimately cause blindness and vision loss if left untreated. There are many types of glaucoma, but the most common is open-angle glaucoma.

Glaucoma can look like a hazy cornea or eye redness, and it can cause blind spots, blurriness, and tunnel vision. There’s no way to prevent or treat glaucoma, but there are ways to stop the disease from getting worse.

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Glaucoma - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Epidemiology of Glaucoma: The Past, Present, and Predictions for the Future | PMC

Types of Glaucoma | National Eye Institute

10 Things To Do Today To Prevent Vision Loss From Glaucoma | American Academy of Ophthalmology