You may be wondering what exactly glaucoma is, as there is a lot of information out there – from family and friends, your physician, or the internet. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can, if left untreated, cause vision impairment and even blindness. Although the development of glaucoma is not completely understood, we do know that it damages the nerve fibers in the optic nerve and the retina, limiting a person’s field of view and quality of vision.
Over time, many myths surrounding glaucoma have emerged that people continue to believe today, including there is only one type of the condition, or that there are no treatment options available. However, these are just that – myths! To help clear up any confusion, we’re sharing the facts behind some common myths about glaucoma!
Investigating Glaucoma Myths vs. Facts
Myth #1: There is only one type of glaucoma
Fact: There are many types of glaucoma. Three of the most common types are: Open-Angle Glaucoma, Angle-Closure Glaucoma, and Normal-Tension Glaucoma.
The most common type of glaucoma is called open-angle glaucoma. It accounts for about 70-90% of cases. Open-angle glaucoma can occur when the drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris remains open and the trabecular meshwork is partially blocked, causing the pressure in the eye to increase and eventually damage the optic nerve. There are typically no warning signs or symptoms to indicate that you might have open-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can develop slowly over time and may go unnoticed, especially if vision only changes slightly. Often during the aging process, the trabecular meshwork starts to decline in function, affecting how the fluid flows throughout the eye. If you are diagnosed with open-angle glaucoma and do not seek treatment, the pressure in the eye can increase. This can gradually lead to loss of peripheral vision and blindness, so it’s particularly important to speak to your doctor and identify a treatment plan.
Angle-closure glaucoma – also referred to as narrow-angle glaucoma – is the second most common type of glaucoma. This tends to occur when the iris bulges forward, blocking the drainage angle formed by the cornea and iris. With this type of glaucoma, you may feel eye pain and experience hazy or blurred vision. These symptoms can occur because of the build-up of fluid and pressure in the eye. Angle-closure glaucoma can occur suddenly or gradually. If you find that your glaucoma has occurred suddenly, it may be considered acute angle-closure glaucoma. However, if it is progressing gradually, the condition may be referred to as chronic angle-closure glaucoma. Speak with your doctor to learn more.
With normal-tension glaucoma, also known as low-tension or normal-pressure glaucoma, the optic nerve becomes damaged even though eye pressure is within a “normal” range. This condition may occur due to a number of factors, such as a sensitive optic nerve or reduced blood supply to the optic nerve.
Myth #2: There are no symptoms of glaucoma.
Fact: While it is true that people diagnosed with glaucoma often don’t experience symptoms, if they do develop, they may vary depending on the type of glaucoma you have and how advanced the condition is. It’s important to keep your regularly scheduled eye exams to catch glaucoma before it affects your vision, especially if you are experiencing any potential symptoms. Some possible symptoms that may indicate you or someone you know has glaucoma include:
- Frequent, patchy blind spots in peripheral or central vision
- Severe headaches
- Pain in eyes and forehead
- Seeing rainbows or halos around light
Myth #3: There is no cure or treatment for glaucoma.
Fact: Although there is no cure for glaucoma, it is treatable! Many vision problems, such as cataracts or glaucoma, can be treated if detected early through regular vision exams. Annual eye exams can reveal both reversible and permanent risks to your vision and overall eye health. Once glaucoma is detected, understanding your treatment options can help prevent any further vision loss. Treatments can include:
Eye Drops: Most glaucoma treatments start with eye drops prescribed by an eye care professional. The eye drops help to reduce the pressure in your eye by decreasing the amount of fluid your eyes make and also helping to drain it. It is common for your doctor to prescribe more than one medication to manage your glaucoma. Make sure to tell your eye care provider if you are taking other medications that may interfere with your glaucoma eye drops.
Laser Treatment: Your eye doctor may suggest laser therapy. The most common laser treatment is called laser trabeculoplasty. Before this laser treatment, your doctor will begin by putting numbing eye drops in your eye, so you feel minimal pain during the therapy. Following that step, a small laser beam will open up clogged areas of the trabecular meshwork. During this, you may see flashes of bright green or red lights.
Micro-Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS): MIGS is a micro-invasive treatment option that can reestablish the eye’s physiological outflow, reduce intraocular pressure (IOP), and prevent the progression of glaucoma. MIGS typically refers to a group of surgical procedures that share these features: minimal trauma, effective, high safety profile, and rapid recovery.
With the FDA approval of the first generation iStent® approved in 2012, MIGS became a preferred approach to glaucoma management for many eye care professionals and patients alike. The iStent inject® W procedure is performed during cataract surgery and is one of the smallest medical devices known to be implanted in the human body. iStent inject® W includes two surgical grade titanium stents that are preloaded in a single-use sterile inserter. It creates two openings from the front part of your eye and is designed to restore your eye’s natural ability to drain the fluid causing the increased pressure inside your eye. Once these are inserted, you will not be able to feel the stents in your eye, but they will be working to help reduce eye pressure. You should continue to take eye drops unless your doctor or glaucoma specialist advises otherwise. This technology has helped people around the world manage their glaucoma.
Myth #4: Glaucoma only affects the elderly population.
Fact: There are various causes and risk factors of glaucoma. While anyone can develop glaucoma, some populations are more at-risk than others. If you have one or more risk factors outlined below and are over the age of 35, you should visit your eye care professional for a full glaucoma exam. Early detection and treatment of high intraocular pressure is the best treatment against glaucoma.
- African Americans: Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than in Caucasians.
- Anyone Over the Age of 60: People over the age of 60 possess an elevated risk and are six times more likely to have glaucoma.
- People With a Family History: If there are members in your immediate family who have glaucoma, your chances of developing the condition are higher. If this is the case, it’s important to stay in contact with your eye doctor and get screened regularly.
- Hispanic Groups: Studies show that Hispanics over the age of 60 are at a greater risk of developing glaucoma.
- Asian Populations: Those of Asian descent have an increased risk of angle-closure glaucoma, and people of Japanese descent are more likely to be diagnosed with normal-tension glaucoma.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, you may be wondering how you developed this eye condition. In addition to the most common risk factors mentioned above, other conditions occasionally may cause glaucoma. Some causes may include:
- Blunt eye trauma: This can result in immediate increased eye pressure or cause internal damage.
- Inflammatory eye conditions, such as Uveitis, which is inflammation inside the eye that usually happens when a person’s immune system is fighting an infection. Uveitis can cause problems like pain, redness, and vision loss.
Myth #5: There is only one way to diagnose glaucoma.
Fact: The only way to officially diagnose glaucoma is by making an appointment with an eye doctor, especially if you notice changes in your vision or have experienced any potential symptoms. However, there are multiple ways to check for glaucoma. During an eye exam, your doctor will likely perform the following procedures and/or tests:
- Measure eye pressure
- Visual field test, to see if your peripheral vision is worsening
- Examine your eye’s drainage angle
- Test side vision
- Gonioscopy, which evaluates the eye’s drainage system
- Ultrasound Biomicroscopy, a technique used for imaging the eye
- Take a detailed picture of your optic nerve
- Measure the thickness of your cornea
How is Your Glaucoma Knowledge?
We hope you now know the truth behind these common eye health myths related to glaucoma! If you or anyone you know were recently diagnosed with glaucoma and looking for more information on this condition, share this blog with them to help them stay informed. For more common eye myths, visit the Glaucoma Research Association and Optometrist Network today.