What Is Glaucoma? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Glaucoma is an inherited disease that degrades the vision over time. Let's take a look to learn more about what causes it, as well as what the symptoms and treatment options are.

What is Glaucoma?

Do you know anyone who has suffered from glaucoma? Do you know what glaucoma is? Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve, eventually eliminating vision over time. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting information from your eye to your brain, allowing you to make sense of what you are seeing. When the nerve stops working, you essentially lose your vision.

Typically, glaucoma is caused when pressure builds up inside the eye, ultimately pinching the optic nerve. Unfortunately, the condition tends to be hereditary, and it can cause complete, irreversible blindness in just a few years. Regular visits to the eye doctor can help catch glaucoma in its early stages when treatment is still available.

Types of Glaucoma

There are two types of glaucoma. The first is open-angle glaucoma, and this is the most common form. In this form, the physical structures in the eye are normal, but the fluid is still blocked due to some other reason. The second type is angle-closure glaucoma, and in this form, the physical structures in the eye are preventing fluid from flowing properly.

Causes of Glaucoma

We've already learned that glaucoma is often inherited through your parents' genes; however, the specific cause is a buildup of pressure in the eye caused by abnormal fluid circulation. Fluid found in the eye is called aqueous humor, and usually the fluid flows out of the eye freely. When the outflow channel becomes blocked, the fluid backs up, causing pressure and thus, glaucoma. Scientists are still trying to figure out why the channel blocks up, but they're pretty sure the condition is inherited.

In rarer cases, glaucoma may also result from:

  • Eye surgery
  • Physical injury to eye
  • An infection of eye
  • Blocked blood vessels

Symptoms of Glaucoma

Now we know what glaucoma is and what causes it, what are the symptoms that occur? Well, glaucoma is a rather sneaky disease, and often there aren't any symptoms during early stages (yikes!). Instead, the initial symptoms occur when the person starts noticing peripheral vision loss. Sometimes symptoms appear suddenly due to a rapid increase in pressure. In these cases, symptoms may include:

  • Seeing halos around light
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Vision loss
  • Headaches or eye pain
  • Eye redness
  • Nausea
  • Tunnel vision (i.e. narrowing of the field of vision)

If left untreated, glaucoma leads to complete, irreversible blindness.

Glaucoma symptoms can include cloudy eyes.
Glaucoma symptoms

Treatment Options

Annual eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages. Once glaucoma is diagnosed, there are three primary treatment options: eye drops, laser surgery, or microsurgery. Let's take a look at each of these options.

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