Glaucoma is a disease that causes a gradual degeneration of cells that make up the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. As the nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning in the periphery. Often, the vision loss is unnoticeable until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred.

Between three and four million Americans have glaucoma; including an estimated 1.5 to two million people who do not even know they have the disease. The most common type of glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, with no symptoms for an extended period of time. Left untreated, loss of sight vision will occur and may eventually lead to blindness.

The National Eye Institute has prepared a helpful guide and worksheet to explain glaucoma better and prepare you for discussions with your eye doctor. Download the glaucoma guide here.

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Glaucoma causes vision loss by damaging the optic nerve, located in the back of your eye. Loss of peripheral (side) vision is often one of the first signs of glaucoma.

Risk Factors

The exact cause of primary open-angle glaucoma, the disease’s most common form, is uncertain but factors that increase the glaucoma risk include:

  • Age (Individuals over 40)
  • Race (Hispanic & African American)
  • Diabetes
  • Eye Trauma
  • Long-term use of steroid medications
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Nearsightedness
  • Elevated fluid pressure within the eye

Other forms of glaucoma, such as angle-closure, secondary glaucoma, and congenital glaucoma, occur in relation to specific physical causes. For example, with angle-closure glaucoma, the area through which the eye’s fluid normally drains (known as the angle) becomes blocked causing fluid and pressure to suddenly increase in the eye. With congenital glaucoma, patients are born with a defect in the eye’s angle, preventing the fluid from draining at a normal rate, causing eye pressure to increase. Both conditions are correctable with surgery.


Most cases of glaucoma can be controlled and vision loss can be slowed with treatment. When it comes to glaucoma treatment, open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured but the pressure build up can be lessened so as to prevent further damage to the eyes. Medications, laser treatments, and surgery can lower the pressure within the eye. Glaucoma treatment includes:

  • A drainage implant in the eye that creates and opening for the fluid to drain
  • Surgery to remove a small piece of eye tissue that allows fluid to drain (trabeculectomy)
  • Prescription pills
  • Eye drops
  • Laser surgery

If you do experience any of these glaucoma symptoms be sure to see an eye doctor to undergo treatment and prevent any further damage. Most importantly, if you experience closed-angle glaucoma symptoms, this requires emergency medical attention where an eye doctor usually performs laser surgery to repair what caused the glaucoma, preventing pressure from building up again. Any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored. In these cases, low vision devices can help compensate for the vision that was lost by improving vision.