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Glaucoma is sometimes called the silent thief, slowly stealing your sight before you realize anything's wrong. The most common form of glaucoma develops gradually, giving no warning signs. Many people aren't even aware they have an eye problem until their vision is extensively damaged.

Risk factors

If your intraocular pressure is higher than what's considered normal, you're at increased risk of developing glaucoma. Yet most people with slightly elevated intraocular pressure don't develop the disease. This makes it difficult to predict who will get glaucoma.

Certain other factors increase your risk. Because chronic forms of glaucoma can destroy vision before any symptoms are apparent, be aware of these factors:

  • Age. Age is a large risk factor in the development of glaucoma. Everyone older than 60 is at increased risk of the disorder. For blacks however, the increase in risk becomes apparent earlier, after age 40.

  • Race. Blacks are significantly more likely to get glaucoma than are whites, and they are much more likely to suffer permanent blindness as a result. Hispanics also face an increased risk. The reasons for these differences aren't clear. Asian-Americans are at higher risk of angle-closure glaucoma, and Japanese-Americans are more prone to low-tension glaucoma.

  • Family history of glaucoma. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you have a much greater risk of developing glaucoma.

  • Medical conditions. Diabetes increases your risk of developing glaucoma. A history of high blood pressure or heart disease also can increase your risk. Other risk factors include retinal detachment, eye tumors and eye inflammations such as chronic uveitis and iritis. Certain types of eye surgery may trigger secondary glaucoma.

  • Physical injuries. Severe trauma, such as being hit in the eye, can result in increased eye pressure. Injury can also dislocate the lens, closing the drainage angle.

  • Nearsightedness. Being nearsighted, which generally means that objects in the distance look fuzzy without glasses or contacts, increases the risk of developing glaucoma.

  • Prolonged corticosteroid use. Using corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time appears to put you at risk of getting secondary glaucoma.

  • Eye abnormalities. Structural abnormalities of the eye can lead to secondary glaucoma. For example, pigmentary glaucoma is a form of secondary glaucoma caused by pigment granules being released from the back of the iris. These granules can block the trabecular meshwork.

When to seek medical advice

Primary open-angle glaucoma gives few warning signs until permanent damage has already occurred. That's why regular eye exams are the key to detecting glaucoma early enough for successful treatment. It's best to have routine eye checkups every two to four years after age 40 and every one to two years after age 65. Because African Americans have a much higher risk of glaucoma, screening should begin every three to five years from age 20 to 29, and every two to four years after the age of 30. Don't wait for symptoms of any kind to occur. If you have one or more risk factors for glaucoma, talk to your doctor about scheduling regular eye exams. Some tests can be performed by your regular doctor, but others need to be done by an eye care specialist.

In addition, be alert for signs of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack, such as a severe headache or pain in your eye or eyebrow, nausea, blurred vision, or rainbow halos around lights. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate care at your local hospital emergency room.

If you've received a diagnosis of glaucoma, establish a regular schedule of examinations with your doctor to be sure your treatment is helping maintain a safe pressure in your eyes.

Glaucoma > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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