Tunnel vision. Two words used together to figuratively describe short-sighted actions and “one-track minds.” But when it comes to vision loss from glaucoma, tunnel vision takes on a much more literal meaning. Understand a little about the disease and you will always keep your “blinders off.”

Defining glaucoma

Glaucoma is a term used to describe a group of eye diseases that, gone undiagnosed and untreated, cause damage to the optic nerve and lead to vision loss. Often referred to as the “silent thief of sight,” glaucoma has the uncanny ability to develop over time without any symptoms, and very slowly degrade your ability to see, starting with peripheral vision.

After cataracts, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, and the disease most typically affects people over the age of 60. With an ever-growing senior population in the United States, it’s estimated about 3 million Americans have glaucoma—many undiagnosed.

The relationship between eye pressure and vision loss

Your eyes contain a clear fluid (aqueous humor) that delivers nutrients to the structures in your eyes that are involved in sight. When this fluid does not drain properly from the eye through something called the trabecular meshwork, it builds up and causes the internal pressure to increase.

Over time, without diagnosis this pressure puts a strain on the optic nerves at the back of your eyes. The optic nerve takes the images presented to your retina and delivers them directly to your brain for processing. Once damaged, it does not recover, so the resulting vision loss is permanent.

Identifying symptoms of glaucoma

The three types of glaucoma include open-angle glaucoma, closed-angle glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma. Open-angle and normal-tension glaucoma don’t typically present any symptoms, but closed-angle glaucoma is caused by a sudden blocking of the meshwork that drains the fluid from your eyes. With a sudden spike in internal pressure, the resulting symptoms include:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Mid-dilated pupils
  • Redness of the eye
  • Nausea

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms to avoid any permanent vision loss. Your eye doctor will act quickly with medication or surgery.

Treatment for better vision

Since glaucoma is most often symptomless, and you may not detect subtle changes in your vision over time, it’s a good idea to identify if you’re at risk for developing the disease. While it’s a little bit worrisome to imagine losing your sight permanently, the early detection and treatment of glaucoma is fairly simple.

A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to detect the disease. Your eye doctor will test the pressure of your eyes and take a close look at your optic nerves for any abnormalities or changes. He or she will prescribe medications to reduce the excessive fluid in your eyes or perform surgery to clear the trabecular meshwork if necessary.

Having a comprehensive dilated eye exam annually is the best preventive measure, especially if you’re over the age of 60. If you have diabetes, chronic migraines or a family history of glaucoma, then you may be at an increased risk for glaucoma. Simply talk to your eye doctor.

Use your VSP Individual Plan to schedule your next appointment. If you don’t have vision insurance, find out how VSP can help you save on your next eye exam or pair of glasses.