Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(9):1950

What is open-angle glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma is a common, serious eye problem. The insides of your eyes make fluid. When this fluid doesn't drain out, it creates pressure. High pressure inside your eyes can slowly damage the nerves that help you see.

Gradual nerve damage slowly reduces your sight. Vision loss is so slow that you might not notice it for a long time. Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent.

Who gets open-angle glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma usually affects older people. About 2.5 million Americans have it, but half of these people don't know it. Glaucoma is most common among:

  • Black people older than 40 years

  • White people older than 65 years

  • People with a family history of glaucoma

  • People with diabetes

  • People who are very nearsighted

How can I find out if I have open-angle glaucoma?

Your doctor may want to look into your eye to check the optic nerve. If you have glaucoma, the optic nerve often looks abnormal. Your doctor also may check your vision and measure the pressure inside your eye. Your doctor might ask an eye doctor to check your eyes.

Usually there are no symptoms. You might slowly notice you are losing vision around the edges of your sight as the disease goes on.

How is open-angle glaucoma treated?

An eye doctor will probably give you eye drops to lower the pressure inside your eye. Be sure to tell your family doctor about the eye drops you will be using. Just like any other medicine, eye drops can cause side effects.

After putting the drops into your eyes, gently press the corners of your eyes near the nose for one to two minutes. Keep your eyes closed and don't blink. This will give the best results with the fewest side effects. You'll probably use eye drops for the rest of your life.

Your eye doctor may choose to do surgery to lower the pressure in your eyes. Usually you can go home the same day as the surgery.

Can I avoid getting open-angle glaucoma?

Regular aerobic exercise lowers the pressure inside the eye, which may prevent glaucoma. If you have regular, complete eye exams, your doctor can find glaucoma if you get it, and treat it before you lose any vision.

Where can I get more information?

Glaucoma Foundation

Glaucoma Research Foundation

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