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At a glance: Glaucoma

  • Early Symptoms:

    None

  • Later Symptoms:

    Loss of side (peripheral) vision, blindness

  • Diagnosis:

    Dilated eye exam

  • Treatment:

    Medicine (usually eye drops), laser treatment, surgery

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging a nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve.  

The symptoms can start so slowly that you may not notice them. The only way to find out if you have glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam.  

There’s no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision.  

What are the types of glaucoma?

There are many different types of glaucoma, but the most common type in the United States is called open-angle glaucoma — that’s what most people mean when they talk about glaucoma. Other types of glaucoma are less common, like angle-closure glaucoma and congenital glaucoma.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

At first, glaucoma doesn’t usually have any symptoms. That’s why half of people with glaucoma don’t even know they have it.  

Over time, you may slowly lose vision, usually starting with your side (peripheral) vision — especially the part of your vision that’s closest to your nose. Because it happens so slowly, many people can’t tell that their vision is changing, especially at first. 

But as the disease gets worse, you may start to notice that you can’t see things off to the side anymore. Without treatment, glaucoma can eventually cause blindness. 

Am I at risk for glaucoma?

Anyone can get glaucoma, but some people are at higher risk. You’re at higher risk if you: 

  • Are over age 60 

  • Are African American or Hispanic/Latino and over age 40 

  • Have a family history of glaucoma 

Talk with your doctor about your risk for glaucoma, and ask how often you need to get checked.  

woman getting an eye exam

When to get help right away

Angle-closure glaucoma can cause these sudden symptoms:

  • Intense eye pain
  • Upset stomach (nausea)
  • Red eye
  • Blurry vision

If you have these symptoms, go to your doctor or an emergency room now.

What causes glaucoma?

Scientists aren’t sure what causes the most common types of glaucoma, but many people with glaucoma have high eye pressure (intraocular pressure) — and treatments that lower eye pressure help to slow the disease. 

There’s no way to prevent glaucoma. That’s why eye exams are so important — so you and your doctor can find it before it affects your vision.

How will my eye doctor check for glaucoma?

Eye doctors can check for glaucoma as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless — your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then check your eyes for glaucoma and other eye problems. The exam includes a visual field test to check your peripheral (side) vision.

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Did you know?

Glaucoma can happen in one eye or both eyes

Some people with high eye pressure don’t get glaucoma — and there’s a type of glaucoma that happens in people with normal eye pressure

The amount of eye pressure that’s normal varies by person — what’s normal for one person could be high for another

What’s the treatment for glaucoma?

Doctors use a few different types of treatment for glaucoma, including medicines (usually eye drops), laser treatment, and surgery.  

If you have glaucoma, it’s important to start treatment right away. While it won’t undo any damage to your vision, treatment can stop it from getting worse. 

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Medicines. Prescription eye drops are the most common treatment. They lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to your optic nerve.

Learn more about glaucoma medicines

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Laser treatment. To lower pressure in your eye, doctors can use lasers to help the fluid drain out of your eye. It’s a simple procedure that your doctor can do in the office.

Learn more about laser treatment for glaucoma

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Surgery. If medicines and laser treatment don’t work, your doctor might suggest surgery. There are several different types of surgery that can help the fluid drain out of your eye.

Learn more about glaucoma surgery

Talk over your options with your doctor. While glaucoma is a serious disease, treatment works well. Remember these tips: 

  • If your doctor prescribes medicine, be sure to take it every day 

  • Tell your doctor if your treatment causes side effects 

  • See your doctor for regular check-ups 

  • If you’re having trouble with everyday activities because of your vision loss, ask your doctor about low vision services or devices that could help 

  • Encourage family members to get checked for glaucoma, since it can run in families 

What is the latest research on glaucoma?

Scientists are studying what causes glaucoma and how we can find it earlier and treat it better. NEI also funds research on new treatment options.

Last updated: July 2019