Glaucoma is a condition that affects the optic nerve in the eye and is caused by pressure building up inside the eye, resulting in the damage. In most cases, the condition is hereditary. If the pressure is not treated by an ophthalmologist in a timely manner, it will eventually result in total blindness of the eye within a matter of a few years.


Glaucoma mostly affects those who are over the age of 40, but signs of the problem may not show up until much later. Those who have a family history of glaucoma, have diabetes or are at risk for other types of eye diseases should be sure to have their eyes examined at least once every two years, or more often if your ophthalmologist recommends it.


The buildup of pressure in the eye occurs when the liquid inside the eye, called the aqueous humor, is unable to circulate into and out of the eye due to the trabecular meshwork being blocked. At this time, the actual cause of blockage is not known, but when the fluid is blocked, it causes the pressure inside the eye to increase to the point of causing damage to the optic nerve.

While most cases of this glaucoma are hereditary in nature, those who have had an injury to the eye, severe eye infections, chemical damage or eye surgery can develop it has well. Other risk factors include:

  • Poor vision
  • Diabetes
  • Use of steroid medications
  • Being of African American, Hispanic, Irish, Inuit, Japanese, Scandinavian or Russian descent


There are two types of glaucoma: open angle and angle closure. The most common form is open angle, which occurs when there is no visible damage or irregularities in the eye, but the fluid channel does not allow for proper drainage.

Angle closure glaucoma is caused by the trabecular meshwork becoming too narrowed due to the angle between the cornea and the iris. In this condition, the blockage is caused by the iris, leading to a sudden increase in the pressure in the eye.


Most people with glaucoma typically do not have any symptoms until their vision becomes altered, which is why eye exams are so important. When pressure inside the eye increases too much, symptoms can include:

  • Tunnel vision
  • Eye redness
  • Sudden eye pain
  • Loss of vision
  • Headache
  • Halos around lights
  • Nausea or vomiting

If any of these symptoms develop, you should seek immediate medical attention to avoid permanent vision loss.

Glaucoma can only be diagnosed by an eye doctor, who can examine the optic nerve. The ophthalmologist also uses tonometry to test the pressure in the eyes, along with a visual field test to monitor peripheral vision. Over time, glaucoma patients may need eye drops, microsurgery or laser surgery to relieve some of the pressure in their eyes. Without such treatments, the chances of vision loss and blindness are very high.

By Dr. James D. Rowe