For most people, there are usually few or no symptoms of glaucoma. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease.
Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should have a complete exam with an eye specialist every year or two. However, the presence of the following warning signs, indicates that you need a thorough eye examination:
- Vision loss
- Unusual trouble adjusting to dark rooms
- Difficulty focusing on near or distant objects
- Squinting or blinking due to unusual sensitivity to light or glare
- Halos around lights
- Redness in the eye
- Eye that looks hazy (particularly in infants)
- Change in color of iris
- Red-rimmed, encrusted or swollen lids
- Recurrent pain in or around eyes
- Double vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain in the eye
- Narrowing of vision (tunnel vision)
- Dark spot at the center of viewing
- Lines and edges appear distorted or wavy
- Excess tearing or “watery eyes”
- Dry eyes with itching or burning
- Seeing spots, ghost-like images
- Severe headaches
The following may be indications of potentially serious problems that might require emergency medical attention:
- Sudden loss of vision in one eye
- Sudden hazy or blurred vision
- Flashes of light or black spots
- Halos or rainbows around light
The symptoms listed above may not necessarily mean that you have glaucoma. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor for a complete exam. There is always the possibility that these are symptoms of glaucoma.
How is glaucoma detected?
Regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist are the best way to detect glaucoma. Your ophthalmologist will measure your eye pressure (tonometry); inspect the drainage angle of your eye (gonioscopy); evaluate your optic nerve (ophthalmoscopy); and test the visual field of each eye (perimetry).
Who is at risk for glaucoma?
High eye pressure alone does not mean that you have glaucoma, but it is an important risk factor your ophthalmologist will use to determine your risk for developing the disease.
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. However, certain groups are at higher risk than others.
People at high risk for glaucoma should get a complete eye exam, including eye dilation, every year or two.
The following are groups at higher risk for developing glaucoma.
- African Americans
After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and people of African descent. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than in Caucasians.
- People over 60
Glaucoma is much more common among older people. You are six times more likely to get glaucoma if you are over 60 years of age.
- People with family members with glaucoma
The most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is hereditary. Family history increases risk of glaucoma by four to nine times.
People of Asian descent appear to be at increased risk for angle-closure glaucoma; this type of glaucoma accounts for less than 10% of all diagnosed cases of glaucoma.
- Hispanics in older age groups
The risk for Hispanic populations is greater than those of predominantly European descent, and even greater among Hispanics over the age of 60.
- Past eye injuries
Eye injury may cause secondary open-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur immediately after the injury or years later.
Other possible risk factors include:
- High myopia (nearsightedness)
- Central corneal thickness less than .5 mm.
- Elevated eye pressure
- Thin cornea
- Steroid use
- A history of severe anemia or shock
According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, individuals with diabetes and hypertension may also have an increased risk of developing open-angle glaucoma (OAG).
Your ophthalmologist will weigh all of these factors before deciding if you need treatment for glaucoma; or whether you should be monitored regularly as a glaucoma suspect to detect the early signs of damage to the optic nerve. Symptoms of glaucoma: keep an eye on them!