If not caught in the earlier stages, glaucoma can lead to vision loss and even blindness. Fortunately, by getting diagnosed and starting treatment, vision loss can often be minimized or prevented.

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Glaucoma is a group of conditions characterized by damage to your optic nerve that can lead to vision loss. Your optic nerve carries electrical information from your eye to your brain.

About 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma. Glaucoma is usually a progressive condition. It often doesn’t cause any symptoms early on but can lead to partial or total blindness as it progresses. A type of glaucoma called angle-closure glaucoma can appear quickly and lead to blindness within days.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma accounts for about 9% to 12% of cases of blindness in the United States. African Americans are about 15 times more likely to become visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasian Americans, according to the foundation.

Read on to learn more about how glaucoma causes blindness and what you can do to minimize your risk of vision loss.

Glaucoma can cause blindness or partial blindness by damaging the cells in your optic nerve. Although open-angle glaucoma is much more common, angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness in a much shorter period of time.

Open-angle glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma makes up about 90% of cases of glaucoma in the United States. It tends to develop slowly over months to years.

The front of your eyeball is filled with a clear fluid called aqueous humor that helps nourish the structures of your eye and helps maintain your eye’s shape. A blockage or overproduction of this fluid can lead to increased pressure in your eye.

This increased pressure can compress the optic nerve at the back of your eye and damage its cells. Damage to optic nerve cells can reduce your eye’s ability to send electrical information to your brain. This, in turn, can lead to vision loss, which usually starts in the peripheral vision. Over time, if not treated, it can progress to your central vision.

Angle-closure glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma is a rarer type of glaucoma and is a medical emergency. It forms when the outer part of your iris blocks the drainage of aqueous humor from the front of your eye. This fluid buildup can lead to a sudden increase in eye pressure that causes vision loss or blindness within a few days.

In a 2022 study, researchers found that 23,203 people in the United States visited the emergency room with angle-closure glaucoma over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2017. Females visited the emergency room for angle-closure glaucoma 46% more than males.

There’s currently no cure for glaucoma. Treatment may help reduce the further progression of damage to your eye, but the cells in your optic nerve don’t have the ability to regenerate once they’re damaged.

Researchers are continuing to investigate ways to reverse glaucoma-related vision loss and remain hopeful that there might be a cure someday.

In a 2020 study, researchers successfully reversed a condition similar to glaucoma in mice using gene therapy. They were able to achieve this reversal by injecting an artificial virus to deliver three genes called Oc4, Sox2, and Klf4.

If more animal research finds promising results, similar technologies could be initiated one day in human clinical trials.

Glaucoma is usually a progressive condition that develops over many years. More than 50% of people with glaucoma don’t know they have it. The best way to prevent glaucoma from progressing is to visit an eye doctor for regular eye exams.

If your doctor diagnoses glaucoma, they’ll likely prescribe eye drop medications to help keep your eye pressure under control and prevent vision loss. If eye medications aren’t effective, your doctor may recommend laser treatments or surgery to help preserve your vision.

If you’ve previously received a diagnosis of glaucoma, you may be able to lower the risk of vision loss by:

How often should you get your eyes checked?

For adults over the age of 40 who are at a low risk for eye disease, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a comprehensive eye exam:

  • every 2 to 4 years for people ages 40 to 54
  • every 1 to 3 years for people ages 55 to 64
  • every 1 to 2 years for people 65 years and older

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s recommended that you get your eyes checked once a year, regardless of your age.

If you’re at a higher risk of developing glaucoma based on your medical history, family history, age, or race, you may need more regular eye exams, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

Learn more about risk factors for glaucoma.

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Here are some frequently asked questions people have about glaucoma and vision loss.

Can you go completely blind with glaucoma?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. A small number of people with glaucoma go completely blind.

Can you stop glaucoma from progressing?

About half of people with glaucoma don’t know that they have it. The best way to prevent glaucoma from progressing is to get regular eye checkups and to start treatment as soon as possible.

Prescription eyedrops can decrease the amount of fluid your eye produces and reduce eye pressure.

How long does it take for glaucoma to cause blindness?

Open-angle glaucoma usually takes many years or decades to cause blindness. Many people still have good vision 20 years after their diagnosis, especially if they get treatment before vision loss has progressed.

Angle-closure glaucoma is an eye emergency that can lead to blindness within a few days if not treated quickly.

Glaucoma can cause blindness or partial blindness by damaging the cells in your optic nerve. When these nerves become damaged it can lead to vision loss. Most people don’t experience any symptoms until the condition has advanced for many years or decades.

The best way to prevent glaucoma-related vision loss is by getting regular eye exams. Starting treatment early can help prevent vision loss from progressing and causing blindness.