What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, the cable-like structure responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain. This damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure inside the eye. It is one of the leading causes of blindness for people over 60, though it can affect individuals of any age. As the condition progresses, individuals may experience changes in their vision and quality of life that can be challenging to navigate. 

elderly man being looked at by an ophthalmologist

Symptoms of Glaucoma

The experience of living with glaucoma can vary depending on the stage of the condition, the type of glaucoma, and the individual’s response to treatment. In the early stages, glaucoma may have little to no noticeable symptoms, leading to a sense of normalcy in daily life. Many people may not realize they have glaucoma until the condition has advanced, leading to permanent vision loss. Some common symptoms include:

  1. Loss of peripheral (side) vision: This usually occurs gradually and is often the first sign of glaucoma. Patients may find it challenging to see objects at the edges of their visual field, which can impact daily activities like driving or walking.
  2. Tunnel vision in the advanced stages: As glaucoma progresses, the affected person’s field of vision narrows, leaving only a small central area of sight. This can severely limit mobility and independence.
  3. Severe eye pain: The increased pressure within the eye can lead to significant discomfort and pain, especially in acute angle-closure glaucoma.
  4. Nausea and vomiting: The intense eye pain can sometimes be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, which may require immediate medical attention.
  5. Blurred vision: Glaucoma can cause a gradual decline in overall visual acuity, making it difficult to see objects clearly.
  6. Halos around lights: People with glaucoma may notice bright, circular halos around light sources, which can be particularly noticeable at night or in low-light conditions.
  7. Redness in the eyes: The increased pressure and strain on the eyes can result in redness, making the eyes appear bloodshot.

Diagnosis of Glaucoma

Early detection of glaucoma is essential to prevent or limit vision loss. Comprehensive eye exams are crucial in diagnosing the condition, and they typically include:

  1. Measuring intraocular pressure (IOP) with a tonometry test: This non-invasive test measures the pressure within the eye using a small device that gently touches the eye’s surface.
  2. Inspecting the optic nerve head through an ophthalmoscope: This instrument allows the doctor to examine the optic nerve head for any signs of damage or increased cupping, which can indicate glaucoma.
  3. Testing for visual field loss: A visual field test helps assess the extent of peripheral vision loss by asking the patient to identify lights or objects appearing in various parts of their visual field.
  4. Measuring the corneal thickness: A pachymetry test measures the thickness of the cornea, as thinner corneas may be more susceptible to damage from increased intraocular pressure.
  5. Assessing the angle where the iris meets the cornea: A gonioscopy exam evaluates the drainage angle within the eye to determine if it is open or narrow, which can help identify the type of glaucoma present.

Treatment Options for Glaucoma

While glaucoma-induced vision loss cannot be reversed, there are several treatment options available to slow or halt the progression of the disease:

  1. Prescription eye drops: These medications can help reduce intraocular pressure by either decreasing fluid production within the eye or improving drainage.
  2. Oral medications: In some cases, doctors may prescribe oral medications, such as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors or beta-blockers, to further lower eye pressure, especially when eye drops alone are insufficient.
  3. Laser therapy: This treatment uses a focused beam of light to open clogged drainage canals (laser trabeculoplasty) or create new ones (laser iridotomy) to reduce intraocular pressure. These procedures are minimally invasive and can provide significant relief for many patients.
  4. Traditional surgery: For more severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to create new drainage channels (trabeculectomy) or remove a portion of the eye’s trabecular meshwork (goniotomy). These surgeries are more invasive than laser treatments but can be highly effective in lowering intraocular pressure and preserving vision.
  5. Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS) is a group of newer, less invasive surgical procedures designed to lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients. MIGS procedures aim to improve the safety and recovery profile compared to traditional glaucoma surgeries, such as trabeculectomy and tube shunt procedures. 

Post-Treatment Care and Lifestyle Adjustments

After receiving treatment for glaucoma, patients must remain vigilant about their eye health. Regular follow-up visits to the ophthalmologist are essential to monitor intraocular pressure and assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Patients should also adhere to their prescribed medication regimen and promptly report any changes in their vision or eye comfort.

In addition to medical treatments, certain lifestyle adjustments can contribute to better eye health and potentially slow the progression of glaucoma. These may include:

  1. Regular exercise: Engaging in moderate physical activity, such as walking or swimming, can help lower intraocular pressure and promote overall health. Always consult with a doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  2. A balanced diet: Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can support eye health. Foods high in nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids are particularly beneficial.
  3. Limiting caffeine intake: Excessive caffeine consumption can temporarily increase intraocular pressure, so moderating intake may be helpful for glaucoma patients.
  4. Elevating the head while sleeping: Using an extra pillow or a wedge pillow to elevate the head during sleep can help reduce intraocular pressure, potentially benefiting those with glaucoma.

After Treatment

After being successfully treated for glaucoma, patients often experience a range of emotions and improvements in their quality of life. It is essential to note that the success of the treatment is often measured by its ability to slow or halt the progression of the disease and prevent further vision loss. While glaucoma-induced vision loss cannot be reversed, successful treatment can stabilize the condition and help patients maintain their current level of vision.

Reach out for Help 

If you need help with glaucoma-related symptoms, please reach out to us today. Tennessee Eye Care provides expert care for glaucoma, right here in our own Tennessee communities.

Need help? Contact our office to schedule an appointment.