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Could I Have Glaucoma? Identifying Symptoms and Taking Action

Glaucoma is a complex eye condition that affects more than three million Americans and can cause irreversible blindness.

The most common form is caused by clogging of the eye's drainage canal—like a sink backing up. The elevated pressure caused by the backup damages the optic nerve, which acts like a data cable carrying information from the eye to the brain.

Yet at least 50% of people with glaucoma don’t know they have it. Why is the disease so sneaky? 

“In the most common form, there are typically no early symptoms as the disease moves slowly. First, glaucoma most commonly takes away the side vision and then, over time, the vision loss closes in until it's like looking through a narrow tunnel. Finally, glaucoma can take away vision altogether.”
Norm Zabriskie, MD Glaucoma Division Chief at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah

First, determine your risk

While anyone can get glaucoma, some people are at higher risk:

  • African Americans over age 40 
  • Everyone over age 60 (especially Hispanic Americans) 
  • People with a family history of the disease 

Other risk factors include:

  • Severe nearsightedness
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Long-term steroid or cortisone use
  • Serious eye injury or trauma

Next, visit your eye doctor

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all adults (regardless of whether they have any issues with their vision) get a baseline dilated eye examination at least by the age of 40, when early signs of disease or changes in vision may be detectable. 

Your doctor may suspect glaucoma if you have higher than normal eye pressure (called ocular hypertension). But even with normal eye pressure, an ophthalmologist may detect something different about your optic nerve. Over time, they can check for any changes and monitor side vision. 

Finally, understand treatment

With early detection, medication, laser, or surgery can slow or even stop further vision loss. The treatment depends on the type and severity of the glaucoma, among other things.

"The earlier you get diagnosed, the better," Zabriskie says. "You may control the disease enough that symptoms don’t interfere with your daily life, but it’s a disease that never gives up and has no cure. The good news is, we have a range of treatments available—from prescription eye drops or minimally invasive surgery, or both. Most recently, the Alan S. Crandall Center for Glaucoma Innovation at the Moran Eye Center has become a hub for research to develop safer and more effective surgical therapeutics and treatments for patients worldwide. We are optimistic.”