Skip to main content

Health library

Back to health library

Glaucoma: A surprise attack on your eyes

Ophthalmologist holding up a phoropter.

Millions of people have glaucoma, but many don't know it until they start losing their vision.

Some surprises can be good: parties, prizes, presents and unexpected letters are a few of them. A surprise eye disease such as glaucoma isn't so fun.

If you don't find out about glaucoma in time, it can take away your sight—permanently.

Most of the time you won't have any symptoms of glaucoma until your eyes are already damaged. Vision loss starts around the edges of your sight and moves in. And once you lose part of your vision to glaucoma, you can't get it back.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises talking to your eye doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Eye pain.
  • Headache.
  • Rainbow halos around lights.

A matter of pressure

Glaucoma hurts your eyes by causing a buildup of fluid and pressure inside your eye, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Without treatment this pressure can damage your optic nerve—the part of your eye that tells your brain what you're seeing.

Spoil the surprise

The good news is that once you spot glaucoma, you can stop it from getting worse. The best way to find glaucoma is to have regular eye exams, especially if you are at risk.

According to the NEI and the Glaucoma Research Foundation, risk factors for glaucoma include:

Age. People older than 60 have an increased risk of developing glaucoma.

Race. African Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma than white people. They also become vulnerable to it earlier in life, according to the NEI. Their risk starts rising after age 40. Recent research also indicates that Hispanics in older age groups are at greater risk.

Family history. Studies show a genetic link to developing glaucoma.

Steroid medications. Taking steroid medications for a long time can increase your risk of glaucoma.

Injury or surgery. Past eye trauma can make you more likely to develop glaucoma.

People at risk should talk to their doctor about scheduling regular eye exams to check for signs of the disease. Early treatment can help slow the progression of glaucoma and preserve vision, according to the NEI.

Treating glaucoma

Glaucoma may be treated with medicine or surgery.

Medications. Your ophthalmologist probably will prescribe eyedrops. These medications work in most cases of glaucoma either by decreasing the amount of fluid made by the eye or helping fluid to drain more quickly.

Surgery. If medications don't work, your ophthalmologist may try laser surgery to make it easier for fluid to leave the eye. The effects of laser surgery may wear off over time, so some people need to continue taking medication.

If neither laser surgery nor medication helps, your doctor might recommend traditional eye surgery.

Reviewed 11/16/2022

Related stories