Facts About Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can lead to blindness by damaging the optic nerve. The eye continuously produces a fluid, called the aqueous, that must drain from the eye to maintain healthy eye pressure.

  • Glaucoma affects more than 3 million people living in the United States.
  • Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in African Americans, who should begin glaucoma tests as early as age 35.
  • Glaucoma has many causes and elevated eye pressure is a factor in most. Pressure builds up in the eye due to problems with drainage of aqueous, a fluid produced in the eye.
  • Glaucoma can cause irreversible damage to the optic nerve if left undetected and untreated. The optic nerve transmits information from the eye to the brain for processing.
  • Glaucoma results in a loss of peripheral or side vision initially, which affects your ability to move about safely. Over time, glaucoma can damage your central vision as well.
  • Glaucoma can also affect reading, because the loss of visual field can reduce the number of words you can see at one time.
  • Glaucoma is particularly dangerous to your vision because there are usually no noticeable symptoms initially. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is critical to detect changes that occur early in the optic nerve.
  • Having a dilated eye exam is especially recommended every one to two years for people who are at higher risk for glaucoma, including African Americans age 40 and older, everyone over age 60 (especially Mexican Americans), and people with a family history of glaucoma.
  • Early treatment for glaucoma can usually (but not always) slow the progression of the disease. However, as of yet, there is no cure for glaucoma.
  • For more detailed and patient-centered information about glaucoma detection, treatment, and everyday management, see VisionAware's Patient's Guide to Living with Glaucoma and Guía del Paciente: Vivir con Glaucoma,

A Glaucoma Simulation

Here is what a person with unimpaired vision might see:

Normal Vision (NEI photo)

Here is what a person with glaucoma might see:

glaucoma (NEI photo)

Personal Stories

  • Joe Lovett
    Meet advocate and filmmaker Joe Lovett, director of Going Blind, a documentary film created to increase public awareness of blindness, vision loss, and the vision rehabilitation system. It is also Joe's personal story of his struggle with glaucoma.

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