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Questions and Answers: What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is often called "the sneak thief of sight" because it has no symptoms until significant vision loss has occurred.

Learn about the symptoms of glaucoma, including primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

What are the symptoms of open-angle glaucoma?

In the most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), buildup of fluid pressure in the eye happens very slowly. The angle where the iris meets the cornea is open but the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, causing an increase in eye pressure and subsequent optic nerve damage.

There are typically no early warning signs or symptoms of POAG. Most people who have POAG feel fine and do not notice a change in their vision at first because the initial loss of vision is of the side or peripheral vision, and the visual acuity or sharpness of vision is maintained until late in the disease.

By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced. Vision loss from glaucoma is not reversible with treatment, even with surgery. Because POAG has few warning signs or symptoms before damage has occurred, it is important to see a doctor for regular eye examinations. If glaucoma is detected, your eye doctor can prescribe a preventive treatment to help protect your vision.

What are the symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma?

Primary angle-closure is a condition in which the angle is closed in many or most areas; this can cause increased eye pressure which can lead to optic nerve damage. Treatment in the early stages can help minimize the risk of developing glaucoma. In most patients with primary angle-closure, there is a gradual rise in eye pressure and there are no noticeable symptoms.

Less commonly, the eye pressure increases rapidly and is called an acute attack of angle-closure. Here, the pressure level is extremely high and optic nerve damage can occur quickly. Some patients with angle-closure may have transient episodes of high eye pressure which can be mistaken as migraine headaches.

Symptoms of acute angle-closure are very noticeable, and can include hazy or blurred vision, severe eye and head pain, nausea or vomiting (accompanying severe eye pain), the appearance of rainbow-colored circles around bright lights, or sudden sight loss. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate care from an eye doctor.
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Article by Sunita Radhakrishnan, MD

Dr. Radhakrishnan specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of glaucoma at the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco and is Research Director at the Glaucoma Research and Education Group in San Francisco.

Last reviewed on January 02, 2020

This article appeared in the January 2020 issue of Gleams.

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