Causes of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease and one of the leading causes of vision loss in adults. As it worsens, it can damage the optic nerve, or the bundle of nerve fibers at the back of the eye that send information from the eye to the brain. As the nerve fibers die, peripheral vision is lost. Eventually, the damage from glaucoma can lead to a complete loss of central vision as well.

At California Retina Associates, our internationally respected San Diego glaucoma specialists are committed to helping patients understand what causes glaucoma, and what can be done about it. We believe that early detection and treatment intervention offers the best chances to save vision.

Spike in Pressure Inside the Eye

The most common cause of glaucoma is a spike in pressure inside the eye. Imagine your eye as a basketball or beach ball. Just like these balls need air pressure to keep their shape, the eyeball needs fluid pressure to maintain its round shape and see clearly.

Your eye is constantly producing a fluid called aqueous humor. In a normal, healthy eye, there is a delicate balance between the amount of fluid that is produced and the amount that drains from the eye. The structure where the fluid exits the eye is called the drainage angle, and it is located where the cornea meets the iris. If these fluid-removing channels in the drainage angle become clogged (or even completely blocked), this disruption throws off the fluid balance inside the eye. This causes pressure inside the eye to steadily rise.

As pressure builds up in the eye, it transfers through the eye to the back of the eye, where the optic nerve is located. The optic nerve is most vulnerable to damage caused by these spikes in pressure.

Other Causes of Glaucoma

Most of the time, glaucoma is associated with an increase in intraocular pressure. However, according to our San Diego glaucoma doctors, this is not always the case. Some people develop glaucoma while maintaining normal intraocular pressure, simply because they have highly pressure-sensitive optic nerves.

How this happens is not entirely clear. But many experts believe that it has to do with poor blood flow to the optic nerve. The blood vessels that nourish the optic nerve either narrow or constrict, depriving the nerve of the blood and oxygen it needs.

How to Tell If You May Have Glaucoma

The symptoms of glaucoma differ depending on the type and severity of the condition. The more common type of glaucoma, known as open-angle glaucoma, progresses slowly over the course of years. It may not cause any noticeable symptoms until the advanced stages, where peripheral vision is gradually lost and tunnel vision occurs.

The less-common type of glaucoma, known as angle-closure glaucoma, develops and advances quickly. It causes noticeable symptoms that are painful and sometimes debilitating, including eye pain, headaches, red eyes, nausea and vomiting.

If you are at a high risk of glaucoma, or you experience any changes in vision, you should be screened by one of our experienced eye doctors. To make an appointment at one of our three Southern California locations, please contact us today.