As you age, you’re at increased risk for eye problems like glaucoma that can affect your lifestyle and independence (see our wellness guide for tips on caring for your eyes).
More than two million people have glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. You’re more likely to develop glaucoma if you are age 60 or older.
Researchers are studying the causes of glaucoma, which are actually several eye conditions that can damage the optic nerve (the sensitive nerve that transmits images from the eye to the brain). The damage usually results from a buildup of fluid in the eye, which puts pressure on the nerve and can lead to vision loss.
More than 2 million Americans have open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the condition, and an estimated 50% of them aren’t aware that they have it. Open-angle glaucoma is sometimes called a “silent” disease because there are no symptoms until the disease is advanced.
With this form of glaucoma, the fluid buildup in the eye usually happens slowly. Over time, there may be loss of peripheral or side vision (a condition known as tunnel vision), and then loss of straight-on vision, eventually leading to blindness.
By the time there’s vision loss from open-angle glaucoma, the eye is severely damaged. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams that check for glaucoma and other eye diseases.
As part of a complete eye exam, your eye doctor will apply eye drops to dilate or widen your pupils, look at your optic nerve and check the pressure in your eye (one of the signs of glaucoma is increased eye pressure, although people with normal eye pressure can have glaucoma).
Open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured or reversed, but your eye doctor can help you manage your symptoms and retain as much of your sight as possible. The goal of glaucoma treatment is to reduce your eye pressure.
Medication and surgery are the most common open-angle glaucoma treatments. The two main types of medication are eye drops and pills to control the increased fluid pressure. These medicines may stop working over time, or cause problematic side effects. If that happens, your doctor may change your dose or medications, or suggest laser or traditional surgery.
The best way to control open-angle glaucoma is early detection and treatment, before it leads to vision loss. Talk to your doctor about how often to have regular eye exams.