Glaucoma - FAQs
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the term used to describe a number of related conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve, which transmits information from the eye to the brain. It usually (but not always) is associated with high intraocular pressure (IOP). Left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness.
What's the difference between glaucoma and ocular hypertension?
Ocular hypertension is another term for high eye pressure. In ocular hypertension, IOP is higher than normal but does not cause optic nerve damage and vision loss. Ocular hypertension is a risk factor for glaucoma and should be monitored closely.
Why does my eye doctor want to do more than one kind of glaucoma test?
The "puff test" that most people are familiar with is a screening test that measures IOP. But the gold standard for measuring eye pressure is applanation tonometry. In this glaucoma test, an eye drop is used to numb the surface of your eye and a small probe rests gently on your cornea to measure IOP.
Your doctor may also want to check for optic nerve damage by dilating your eyes, or to check for vision loss with a visual field test.
Who is most at risk for glaucoma?
If you're over age 60, African-American, diabetic or have a family member with glaucoma, you are at higher risk for glaucoma than others.
Watch this video that explains what glaucoma is and who is at risk for the disease. (Video: National Eye Institute)
Is there any way to prevent glaucoma?
Though it's unclear whether glaucoma can be prevented, you might be able to reduce your risk for the disease by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
"Current research is suggesting that optic nerve nutrition can be enhanced with certain drugs and also with certain nutritional agents, like gingko biloba," says Dr. Burt Dubow, optometrist and AllAboutVision.com board member.
"My suggestion would be to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol, eat a healthy diet, keep your weight down, exercise, take nutritional products and be sure to see your eye specialist on a regular basis."
What are the signs and symptoms of glaucoma?
There are usually no signs that you're developing glaucoma until vision loss occurs, which is why it's so important to have regular eye exams. Your eye doctor can detect and treat high IOP before it progresses to optic nerve damage and vision loss.
What are the different types of glaucoma?
Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is the most common form of glaucoma. The other types are: normal-tension, narrow-angle, closed-angle, congenital, pigmentary and secondary.
Is glaucoma curable?
Vision loss from glaucoma cannot be reversed. Routine eye exams are essential to discover glaucoma early and begin glaucoma treatment before significant vision loss has occurred.
What glaucoma treatments are currently available?
Doctors usually prescribe special glaucoma eye drops that reduce intraocular pressure. These are used one or several times a day, depending on the medication. If the drops don't work, surgery may be the next step. In some cases, surgery might be the first option for glaucoma treatment.
Can marijuana be used to treat glaucoma?
No. Some people tout "natural" benefits of marijuana for treating glaucoma, but they are uninformed: it's really not effective enough for slowing or preventing the vision loss that glaucoma causes. In fact, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says marijuana side effects far outweigh any possible benefit that typically is greatly exaggerated. You're much better off using prescribed glaucoma medication or treatment.
Can I have LASIK surgery if I have glaucoma?
People being treated for glaucoma typically are not good candidates for LASIK. This is because a suction device is used on the eye during the creation of the corneal flap during LASIK surgery, and this briefly causes a significant increase in IOP.
But you might be a candidate for another type of vision correction surgery, such as PRK, which does not require the use of a suction device.
[Page updated November 2013]