Typically there are no symptoms with glaucoma. It’s an optic-nerve problem. The optic nerve transmits all of the vision information to the brain.
Historically we convinced people that high eye pressure meant glaucoma. The reality is a lot of people have glaucoma without high eye pressure. It’s not even part of the definition of glaucoma anymore. Only 5 percent or fewer of patients have a high enough eye pressure that they’ll have pain or symptoms attributable to glaucoma.
Some of the signs or symptoms are changes to the optic nerve, small losses of side vision, or higher eye pressure that might cause damage to the optic nerve.
The most important thing to do is have your annual eye exam. Family history is a risk factor. So is diabetes. We generally start to say around age 40 your risk starts to go up by about a ½ percent a year. Glaucoma can happen at any age, but typically it takes time to develop. We’re more likely to be treating it in patients who are older than 40.
Most people should not go blind or lose significant vision with glaucoma. If it’s caught or diagnosed early you usually can maintain good vision just with eyedrops. Sometimes we might encourage laser or other surgery to get the eye pressure to a low enough level that the optic nerve won’t be damaged.
It’s essential to be diagnosed as early as possible. Newer technologies allow us to tell who has a few suspicious findings from who is truly developing glaucoma.
In the early days it was diagnosed when a person said they couldn’t see well. Now it’s long before a patient has had any loss of vision or any problems.