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While many people think glaucoma is just one disease that can affect the eyes, it is in fact a broad term for a range of eye diseases that can eventually lead to vision loss or blindness. In most cases, glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve and is often (though not always) associated with a build up of eye pressure inside the ocular cavity. In the United States, the disease is a leading cause of blindness, second only to cataracts. There are two major types of glaucoma that can afflict the eyes. These include open-angle glaucoma (AKA chronic glaucoma) and angle-closure glaucoma (AKA acute glaucoma). The latter is a serious medical emergency that requires hospitalization. Glaucoma without a build-up of eye pressure is often referred to as low-tension glaucoma. According to the Mayo Clinic, open-angle is the most common form of the disease, and results in gradual vision loss. The disease normally affects both eyes, but can affect each eye to a different extent.

Causes and Risk Factors of Glaucoma

The various forms of glaucoma are generally caused by eye pressure (also known as intraocular pressure). This pressure occurs as a result of eye fluid not circulating properly in the front of your eye. According to WebMD, Glaucoma results when the channel through which this eye fluid (aqueous humor) flows becomes blocked. Unfortunately, doctors are unsure of what causes this blockage. Less common causes of this disease include blunt trauma, complications from eye surgery, a severe eye infection, or various inflammatory conditions associated with the eyes. Aside from these causes, there are several risk factors associated with glaucoma as well. While the disease can affect everyone, people more likely to be stricken by it include African Americans over age 40, people over age 60 (especially Mexican-Americans), or those with a history of glaucoma in their family. People with heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure are also at a higher risk to contract the disease.

Potential Complications

Whether you have angle-closure or open-angle glaucoma, the condition is a serious one, and can result in vision loss or total blindness. The Mayo Clinic maintains that the disease generally causes persistent and progressive vision loss. This vision loss begins with blind spots in the patients peripheral vision, and then turns into tunnel vision before culminating in complete and total blindness.

Symptoms, Signs, and Tests of Glaucoma

Unfortunately, there are often few or no signs of leading up to the condition. Due to this, the disease can often be difficult to catch early on. If it comes early enough though, diagnosis can lead to treatment that helps to slow down vision loss and reduce damage to the optic nerve. Often, the first noticeable symptom is a loss of peripheral vision, which may not come until late in the progression of the disease. However, there are some symptoms to watch for that dont include a loss of vision. If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek out medical care immediately. Seeing halos around lights, pain or redness in the eye(s), eyes that looks hazy, and nausea or vomiting can all be signs of the onset of glaucoma. Upon visiting the doctor, he or she will administer vision tests and an eye exam (usually through dilated pupils) to determine whether or not you have the disease. They may also test your intraocular pressure using a technique called tonometry and conduct a visual field test to check vision loss. All tests are painless and relatively quick.

Treatment, Drugs, and Prevention of Glaucoma

While there is no known cure for the disease, treatment can reduce or slow vision loss if you catch it early enough. Treatment for glaucoma usually focuses on reducing the pressure in your eye cavity. To this end, prescription medicated eye drops such as Xalatan, Azopt, or Iopidine are often the first step in the treatment of the disease. While these can be effective in battling the optic nerve damage, oral medications (carbonic anhydrase inhibitors) may also be prescribed. In serious cases, eye surgery may also be necessary. Laser surgery for your eyes is an effective outpatient procedure, while filtering surgery and drainage implants are more drastic measures. In order to avoid these altogether, it is best to prevent the onset of the condition through regular and comprehensive eye care, including checkups and eye exams. For this, you can ask your doctor about an eye-screening schedule.