Glaucoma happens when the pressure of the liquid in the eye gets too high and causes damage. Glaucoma tends to run in families and is one of the most common major eye disorders in people over the age of 60. In fact, the risk of getting glaucoma increases with age. It can also be triggered or aggravated by some medicines like antihistamines and antispasmodics.

Signs and Symptoms

There are two types of glaucoma:

  • Chronic or open-angle glaucoma. This type takes place gradually. It usually causes no pain and no symptoms early on. When signs and symptoms begin, they include:
    • Loss of side (peripheral) vision
    • Blurred vision

    In the late stages, symptoms include:

    • Vision loss in larger areas (side and central vision), usually in both eyes
    • Blind spots
    • Seeing halos around lights
    • Poor night vision
    • Blindness, if not treated early enough
  • Acute or angle-closure glaucoma. This type can occur suddenly and is a medical emergency! Signs and symptoms include:
    • Severe pain in and above the eye
    • Severe, throbbing headache
    • Fogginess of vision, halos around lights
    • Redness in the eye, swollen upper eyelid
    • Dilated pupil
    • Nausea, vomiting, weakness

Treatment and Care

Glaucoma may not be preventable, but the blindness that may result from it is. Things you can do:

  • Ask to be tested for glaucoma whenever you get a regular vision checkup. It’s a simple, painless procedure. If pressure inside the eyeball is high, an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) will probably give you eye drops and perhaps oral medicines. The aim of both is to reduce the pressure inside the eye.
  • Take the medicines your doctor prescribes. (These are given for life for acute glaucoma.)
  • Do not take any medicine-even a nonprescription one-without your doctor or pharmacist’s okay. Most cold medications and sleeping pills, for example, can cause the pupil in the eye to dilate. This can lead to increased eye pressure.

If medicines do not control the pressure, other options exist:

  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to reduce the pressure in the eye.
  • Laser beam surgery and other surgical procedures that can widen the drainage channels within the eye. These relieve fluid buildup.

There are also some things you can do on your own:

  • Avoid getting upset and fatigued. This can increase pressure in the eye.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes. Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood supply to the eye.

(See “Places to Get Information & Help” under “Visual Problems” on page 377.)

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021