Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

Calgary Family Eye Doctors - Changing lives through eye care.

In Canada alone there are over 400,000 people who suffer from glaucoma, and it is one of the leading causes of blindness.

When you have your eye exam and have the dreaded “puff test,” it is truly an important part of your exam. (Advances in technology allow for other ways to take your intraocular pressure; see our website for the ICare Tonometer at

Glaucoma affects the optic nerve. Our optic nerve sends all of the information our eyes see to the brain and when this nerve becomes damaged, the amount of information being sent to the brain decreases, and this is when vision is lost. The intraocular pressure (or IOP) depends upon the amount of fluid in the eye. If the eye’s drainage system is working properly, then fluid can drain out; if it becomes blocked the fluid cannot drain and the eye pressure increases.

Something to keep in mind about this disease is the fact that it is called the Silent Thief of Sight as it usually will occur with no symptoms.

This is found with Open-Angle Glaucoma and it is the most common type. Open-Angle is a gradual progression without pain or noticeable vision loss. It affects the peripheral vision. Unfortunately, by the time visual symptoms appear, irreparable damage has usually occurred.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma can start gradually or it can begin with sudden symptoms such as foggy or blurred vision, halos, eye pain, headaches and even nausea. This is a medical emergency and should be seen immediately as the pressure can become extremely high in the eye and cause permanent damage within hours.

Normal Tension Glaucoma is another form of Open-Angle Glaucoma wherein your intraocular pressures (IOPs) remain within the normal range. It is believed that an insufficient blood flow to the optic nerve occurs, causing damage. Pressure in the eye slowly rises and unfortunately, the cornea adapts without swelling. Individuals of Japanese descent, women, and those with a history of vascular disease or low blood pressure are at higher risk.

Congenital Glaucoma is an inherited form that is present at birth. Most babies are diagnosed before they turn one. There are typically some noticeable symptoms such as excessive tearing, cloudiness or haziness, large or protruding eyes or light sensitivity. Surgery will usually be performed with a very high success rate of restoring full vision.

While anyone can get gaucoma, the following traits put you at a higher risk:

  • Over 60 years of age
  • Hispanic, Latino, or Asian descent
  • African Americans over the age of 40 (glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans, 6-8 times more common than in Caucasians)
  • Family history
  • Diabetes
  • People with severe nearsightedness
  • Certain medications (ex: steroids)
  • Significant eye injury (even as a child)

Treatment for glaucoma will depend on the type and severity. Medication and drops to lower intraocular pressure are often the first step for controlling pressure-related glaucoma. Surgical procedures are able to control the flow of fluids through the eye by either decreasing the amount of fluid produced or improving the drainage.

We cannot stress enough to you that the most effective way to treat for glaucoma happens with early detection and receiving treatment before significant vision loss occurs. This is why awareness, knowing your risks and taking responsibility by having regular eye exams is so important.

Your optometrist will also observe the health of the optic nerve, retina and inspect the drainage angle. They also may use specialized equipment to measure your field of vision and imaging machines to examine the optic nerve and retinal layers.

This is testing that occurs on a regular basis at Calgary Family Eye Doctors and we are here for any questions you may have. Our mission statement is “Changing Lives Through Eye Care” and we do this proudly every day.

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