What Happens if Glaucoma Goes Untreated?
Glaucoma is an eye condition commonly seen in people who are over the age of 60, although it can start to develop at any age. It’s characterized by abnormally high intraocular pressure, and this pressure causes damage to the optic nerve – the part of the eye responsible for sending messages between the eye and brain. The optic nerve is essential for your vision, so any damage can quickly start to affect how clearly you can see.
Anyone can get glaucoma, but it is more likely if you can say yes to the following risk factors:
- You are of black, Asian, or Hispanic descent
- You have a family history of glaucoma
- You have corneas that are particularly thick, or that are thin in the middle
- You suffer from certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia
- You’ve had an eye injury in the past
- You’ve been taking corticosteroid mediations long-term
Glaucoma is something that your eye doctor should automatically check for at your routine comprehensive eye exams. This helps them to detect it early before it can cause damage to your vision. Below are common reasons why early glaucoma detection is important.
Without treatment, glaucoma can cause irreversible blindness
Unfortunately, the reality is that glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States, and in fact, the world. More than 3 million Americans are thought to be living with glaucoma, and this is a number that is expected to grow over the coming decade.
Any vision lost as a result of glaucoma is permanent. For this reason, early detection, diagnosis and treatment is essential to preserve your long-term eyesight. However, since many forms of glaucoma have little to no warning signs, regular comprehensive eye exams are absolutely crucial. The vast majority of cases of glaucoma are picked up at these appointments, enabling patients to get the rapid professional support that they need to prevent permanent damage to their vision.
Are there any symptoms of glaucoma?
That’s not to say that there aren’t any symptoms of glaucoma at all. Most people with glaucoma experience the slow-developing variety, known as open-angle glaucoma. Symptoms of open-angle glaucoma usually develop slowly too and include loss of peripheral (side) vision or patchy spots in your central vision. However, it’s likely your glaucoma will be picked up by your eye doctor before these symptoms are noticeable.
A much smaller percentage of people will suffer with a rarer type of glaucoma called acute or closed-angle glaucoma. This variety of glaucoma develops very suddenly, and as a result, patients nearly always experience symptoms first, before the condition is diagnosed. Some of the symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma include:
- Severe headache
- Eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Eye redness
Closed-angle glaucoma is considered to be a medical emergency, so if you experience any of the symptoms listed, it’s essential that you make an urgent appointment with your eye doctor for an evaluation and explain the symptoms that you have.
The success of glaucoma treatment
Glaucoma treatment focuses on reducing the amount of pressure within the eyes so that no further damage can occur to the optic nerve. There are a few different treatment options available including:
- Prescription eyedrops, which are usually the first line of treatment
- Oral medications, which are often taken in addition to prescription eyedrops
- Laser therapy
If you are diagnosed with closed-angle glaucoma, you’ll need urgent treatment to reduce the pressure in your eyes as quickly as possible, and so you may be recommended to skip straight to laser therapy or surgery. Always follow the advice of your eye doctor.
Although it can’t restore any lost vision, if started promptly, glaucoma treatment is usually fairly successful in slowing any future vision loss. Nevertheless, around 15% of people with glaucoma will become blind in at least one eye within 20 years.
If you’d like to learn more about glaucoma, or if you have concerns about your vision, please contact our friendly eyecare experts today.