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Understanding the Different Types of Glaucoma

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month! Let’s take a look at the different types of glaucoma and what you can do to best protect yourself and your loved ones from vision damage.

There are four major types of primary glaucoma – that is, glaucoma that is not caused by another condition. These types are: open-angle, angle-closure, normal-tension, and congenital glaucoma. 

Open–Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the condition; it is estimated that 9 in 10 people who have glaucoma in the U.S. have this form. 

There are usually no early symptoms, which is why this condition is referred to as a silent attacker. Often, those with it do not realize until their vision is already significantly damaged.

Regular eye exams can prevent this damage. Glaucoma is able to be detected at such exams thanks to the handheld iCare tonometer, which measures the pressure of your eye. This process lasts less than a minute, and is pain-free!

Open-angle glaucoma is treated most commonly with prescription eye drops. Eye drops lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to the optic nerve. Depending on your eye health, you may be prescribed to use eye drops once a day or more frequently. If eye drops do not work, laser treatment or surgery are the next routes for treatment.

Angle–Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma is a less common but much more aggressive form of glaucoma. It is normal for only one eye to be affected and for symptoms to worsen over the course of a few hours. These attacks are caused by a drastic and sudden change in intraocular pressure resulting from a blockage where the fluid inside the eye drains. 

This is considered a medical emergency and needs to be treated as soon as possible to decrease the chance of permanent damage to the affected eye. Treatment for angle-closure glaucoma is typically either laser treatment or surgery. 

Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include:

  • severe eye pain

  • headache

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • profuse tearing

Normal–Tension Glaucoma

Normal-tension glaucoma is a form of open-angle glaucoma. It occurs when the pressure in the eye is at a normal level yet the optic nerve still experiences damage.

The following are risk factors for normal-tension glaucoma:

  • Japanese ancestry

  • Family history of normal-tension glaucoma

  • Some certain heart problems, like an irregular heartbeat

  • Low blood pressure

It is not currently known what causes normal-tension glaucoma. However, it can be diagnosed and treated the same way open-angle glaucoma can.

Congenital Glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma is a form of glaucoma that is present at birth. It often runs in families, and occurs when the eye does not develop properly and thus cannot drain fluid normally.

Congenital glaucoma is rare, and it is estimated that 1 in 10,000 babies born in the United States have it. Signs of the condition are usually able to be spotted right away, and include the following:

  • cloudy eyes

  • enlargement of one or both eyes

  • light sensitivity

  • an excessive amount of tears

Surgery for congenital glaucoma is typically very successful, and can prevent vision loss or damage if the condition is detected early enough.

The best thing you can do to minimize and prevent vision loss and blindness due to glaucoma is to regularly get your eyes examined. A comprehensive exam should be completed annually, though depending on your eye health and history we may recommend more frequent visits.

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