What Are The Different Types of Glaucoma — And The Warning Signs?
Those interested in eye health have probably heard of glaucoma, an eye disease that leads to vision loss. But did you know that there are many different types of glaucoma? And how do you know if you are at risk or have symptoms of this condition? What should you do about it? Whether you are eye health savvy, or are hearing about glaucoma for the first time, read on to learn more!
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma occurs when damage to the optic nerve happens, often due to elevated intraocular pressure… so let’s break that down.
Our eyes are constantly producing fluid called aqueous humor on the inside of the eye. Healthy eyes are able to drain excess fluid through a part of the eye called the trabecular meshwork. A constant balance of fluid production and drainage keeps the pressure inside the eye at a normal level. Glaucoma often occurs if the eye is not able to drain the fluid from within the eye and the build-up of aqueous humor causes pressure inside the eye to rise. Overtime, this elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) damages the optic nerve which is located at the back of the eye. The optic nerve is responsible for transferring the images your eye captures to the brain for processing. Damage to the optic nerve can lead to vision loss. This damage is non-reversible, often happens slowly, and vision loss is not always experienced right away.
Did you know there is more than one type of glaucoma?
All glaucomas are characterized by progressive damage to the optic nerve, which is usually linked to elevated IOP. The types of glaucoma can be broken down into two main categories- primary and secondary.
Types of Glaucomas: Primary
Primary glaucomas happen on their own and are not caused by another medical condition.
The iris (the colored part of the eye) and cornea (the clear “window” in the front of your eye) come together at what is called the angle. This is where the fluid drains from the eye via the trabecular meshwork. When a person has open angle glaucoma, the angle of the eye is partially clogged, which then leads to the high IOP and resulting optic nerve damage. This is the most common type of glaucoma.
Angle-closure (also known as narrow-angle glaucoma)
If the angle of the eye is fully blocked, the pressure in the eye will rise rapidly. A person with angle closure glaucoma will experience red eyes, severe pain, headaches, and nausea. This is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate attention to prevent blindness.
Norman tension glaucoma
Although glaucomas are normally characterized by a high IOP, a person with normal tension glaucoma will have an IOP observed in the normal range while damage to the optic nerve still occurs. This glaucoma is often caused by low blood pressure.
If a child is born with glaucoma it is called congenital glaucoma. Symptoms are usually obvious and include teary, cloudy eyes that are bluish and look abnormally large. It’s a good idea to get an eye exam for babies from 6 months to 1 year old.
Types of Glaucomas: Secondary
Secondary glaucomas occur because of another medical condition.
Caused by severe diabetes with high blood pressure
New, small blood vessels grow in the angle and cause it to clog
Caused by a defect of the iris (the colored part of the eye)
A small piece of the iris can clog the angle
Caused by genetic predisposition, more common for people from Nordic or Mediterannian countries
An abnormal protein grows in the eye and clogs the angle
There are even more types of glaucoma that aren’t mentioned here!
Am I at risk for developing glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma at some point in their life, but some people may be at a higher risk. People in the following categories may be at a higher risk:
People over 60
People with a family history of glaucoma
People who use steroids
For more information please see the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
What are common symptoms?
The symptoms of glaucoma generally do not present until later in the progression of the disease. If undiagnosed, some of the first warning signs will be loss of peripheral vision or blind spots. If you experience either of these, please make an appointment with your eye doctor today, as these could be signs of glaucoma. It’s important to have an annual eye exam- eye doctors are well-trained to look for tell-tale signs of glaucoma before any symptoms or vision loss! Treatment of glaucoma caught from an early stage is crucial for effective treatment!
There are many treatment options available for glaucoma patients, including multiple types of drops and sometimes surgery. Many patients find success in managing their glaucoma when adhering to their treatment plan from their eye doctor.
Eye health education is part of our mission at Nanodropper. Learn how you can take back control of your eye health, one drop at a time.