How do I know if I’m at risk for glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, yet nearly half of people affected by the disease are unaware they have it. Glaucoma also has no warning signs in its most common forms, especially in its earliest stages, so it can be difficult to detect without frequent eye exams.

“Glaucoma affects the optic nerve and if left untreated, will lead to permanent vision loss or total blindness,” says Dr. Kurt Schwiesow, MD, Tower Clock Eye Center’s fellowship trained glaucoma specialist. “There is no cure for glaucoma, but medical and surgical intervention can reduce its effects.”

Dr. Schwiesow explains the best way to minimize the risk of vision loss from glaucoma is through frequent eye exams with your eye doctor. Though anyone can potentially develop glaucoma, certain groups of people are at elevated risk. They include:

  • Patients with a first degree family member with glaucoma (parent, sibling, child)
  • Patients of Black or Hispanic heritage
  • Being over age 60
  • Nearsighted patients
  • Previous eye injury (blunt trauma)
  • Patients requiring long-term steroid use

How glaucoma affects the eye

Glaucoma develops when the pressure within the eye is higher than the eye can tolerate; this pressure eventually damages the optic nerve. The increased pressure can be the result of many factors within the eye. Eye pressure builds when eye fluid (aqueous humor) fails to drain properly. Left untreated, damage to the optic nerve results in progressive loss of peripheral vision. This loss of vision usually isn’t detected until the patient is nearly completely blind.

Three of the most common forms of glaucoma are:

Open-angle glaucoma – This form of glaucoma is the most prevalent and develops when the drain in the eye, despite being anatomically normal, becomes progressively clogged. The result is a slow, gradual increase in eye pressure. This form of glaucoma happens over a period of time and the effects are so gradual people may not realize or notice a change in vision until late in the disease.

Angle-closure glaucoma – This type of glaucoma usually develops in farsighted people (those who need glasses to see at both distance and near). Farsighted eyes are smaller than normal eyes and their drains are likewise smaller and more crowded. As cataracts develop, the lens in the eye grows and crowds the drain more. Eventually this can close the drain completely, causing increased eye pressure. The onset of this form of glaucoma can be rapid and needs to be addressed immediately (acute angle-closure glaucoma). Another form of this type of glaucoma, chronic angle-closure glaucoma, happens gradually.

Normal-tension glaucoma – This type of glaucoma is really a subtype of open-angle glaucoma and develops despite having normal eye pressure. For varied reasons yet to be completely understood, these eyes seems to be more susceptible to eye pressure and prone to develop glaucomatous damage.


“Early detection of glaucoma is vital to maintain proper vision. Damage to the optic nerve from the disease cannot be reversed,” Schwiesow explains. “Fortunately, glaucoma is readily treatable. Most patients’ glaucoma can be controlled with eyedrops and/or laser treatments.” Some patients do eventually require surgery to create a new drain and establish normal eye pressure.

Comprehensive eye exams are important to diagnose and treat glaucoma before significant vision loss develops. If you have any of the risk factors or have been told you may be at risk for glaucoma, call Tower Clock Eye Center at 920-499-3102 or request an appointment with us online.

Additional information on glaucoma can be found here:

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