Glaucoma: Getting a Clear View

MAY 19, 2015
Yvette C. Terrie, BSPharm, RPh
Early detection and treatment are key to protecting eyesight.
If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with glaucoma, you probably have many questions and concerns. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve—the bundle of nerve fibers that carry information from the eye to the brain.1 Glaucoma may develop in 1 or both eyes and can initially lead to loss of peripheral (side) vision; if left untreated, however, it can lead to blindness.1

Glaucoma can happen if your eye pressure is normal, but is typically caused by an increase in eye pressure (also known as intraocular pressure) in most cases. As the optic nerve becomes more damaged, blank spots may appear in your field of vision. Glaucoma is considered to be one of the leading causes of blindness, especially among African Americans and Hispanics.2 According to the Glaucoma Foundation, an estimated 3 million individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with glaucoma, although more than half of the individuals who have the eye disease are unaware they have it since the disease often does not show symptoms in its early stages.2,3 In addition, an estimated 67 million individuals worldwide have glaucoma, the incidence of which increases around 65 years of age; however, it can occur at any age.4

Types of Glaucoma
The 2 most common forms of glaucoma are primary open-angle and angle-closure.5 Other types include normal tension, congenital glaucoma, and pigmentary glaucoma. Both open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma can be classified as primary or secondary conditions.5 If the cause is unknown, it is referred to as primary glaucoma; if the cause is known, such as an eye injury, inflammation, advanced cataracts, or diabetes, it is referred to as secondary glaucoma.5,6

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for an estimated 95% of glaucoma cases.7 Initially, there will be no symptoms; however, peripheral vision gradually decreases before disappearing altogether.7 If left untreated, gradual vision loss or blindness may result. Since there are often no symptoms, especially in the early stages, a comprehensive eye exam may help to detect primary open-angle glaucoma. Most cases respond well to medication if caught early and treated.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma
Angle-closure glaucoma (also known as closed-angle glaucoma) is responsible for an estimated 10% to 15% of glaucoma cases. This type of glaucoma occurs when the normal flow of the fluid (aqueous humor) between the iris and the lens is blocked, typically by a structural defect in the eye. Angleclosure glaucoma is considered a medical emergency because individuals can lose their sight in as little as 1 to 2 days without proper treatment.1

Individuals with this type of glaucoma experience a sudden increase in eye pressure and may exhibit symptoms such as severe eye pain, nausea, blurred vision, eye redness, and seeing a rainbow halo around lights.1 If you experience any of these symptoms, seek treatment immediately. Prompt and proper treatment, including laser surgery and medications, may clear the blockage and preserve your eyesight.1