Glaucoma is something we think about when it comes to getting old, and indeed it affects the elderly more than younger people, although childhood glaucoma can occur. There are several kinds of glaucoma and all can and often do lead to impaired vision and even blindness. Most sufferers of glaucoma have a version called "open-angle glaucoma" that produces pressure inside the eye itself. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness (second only to diabetes) and is often only diagnosed when fairly advanced as it takes some years for symptoms (vision loss) to become noticeable. This is why regular eye exams are important.
Glaucoma occurs when the fluids that enter and leave the eye area, in order to keep it healthy and functioning, slow down. The reasons for this is unknown but according to EmpowHER's Glaucoma information pages on risk factors:
Risk factors for Glaucoma include, but are not limited to:
■ Age: over 40 years old
■ Race: Black or Hispanic
■ Family members with glaucoma
■ Having diabetes
■ Having hypertension (high blood pressure)
Note: Risk factors for other forms of glaucoma may differ from these.
This slowdown of fluid causes damage to the eye's optic nerve due to a pressure buildup and can therefore cause loss of vision or progress to actual blindness.
There are treatments for glaucoma, however, and most cases can be well-controlled once under the care of a health professional. Treatments include eye drops (very common) and medications that help the fluids run smoothly through the eye, like beta blockers, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, or a combination of both. Other drugs decrease fluid production.
Laser eye surgery is also an option, as is an implant into the eye, known as a Baerveldt Implant, that also lessons pressure to optimize the flow of fluids and drainage. This implant is generally used when other treatments have failed or in addition to them. It's important to ask your doctor the right questions in order to get receive the right treatment for you. The Glaucoma Research Foundation is a good resource for this.