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Learn about Angle-Closure Glaucoma (and the Symptoms Recognizable to an Optometrist)

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One of the main causes of vision loss in Canadians is due to an eye disease known as glaucoma. A rare form of this disease is known as angle-closure glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve due to accumulated pressure within the eye and causes an onset of symptoms that are often quite severe. Your optometrist may be able to detect any form of glaucoma through a routine exam and testing. While it is important to know what angle-closure glaucoma actually is, you also need to recognize the symptoms so you may seek treatment before serious vision loss can occur.

Defining the Disease

In a nutshell, angle-closure glaucoma occurs when intraocular pressure, otherwise known as IOP, builds within one or both eyes. The disease often develops because fluid inside the eye is unable to drain properly. The iris of the eye will protrude, causing fluid retention and pressure.

There may be several contributing factors to developing this serious eye disease, including a blockage of the drainage canal or pre-existing vision issues such as farsightedness. Individuals who are farsighted often have shallow anterior chambers, making it more difficult for fluid to drain properly.

The elderly often have a higher risk for developing angle-closure glaucoma, as do those with medical issues such as diabetes, heart conditions, or high blood pressure. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you may also be at a higher risk for glaucoma. Previous injury to the eye may also increase the risk for glaucoma, as well as over-usage of certain medicated eye drops.

Unlike the more common form of glaucoma known as closed-angle, which may not produce any noticeable symptoms in the early stages, angle-closure glaucoma is often an acute condition, which causes sudden and intense symptoms. However, in some cases, symptoms develop gradually, and this condition is often referred to as chronic angle-closure glaucoma.

Recognizing the Signs of Angle-Closure Glaucoma

The following symptoms may be a red-flag warning to seek evaluation and emergency treatment:

  • Sudden changes in vision: You may experience blurriness, inability to see at night or in low light conditions, or a "halo" surrounding the affected eye. Some individuals with the disease also experience something like a vision "rainbow" effect, with flashes of color appearing in front of the eye. Any of the above-mentioned symptoms should be reported to your eye doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis.

  • Pain: During an acute attack of angle-closure glaucoma, the pain may become intense. Be alerted to pain that is located anywhere around the eye or on the forehead. The pain will typically differ from that of headache discomfort. While a headache is often easily managed through pain relievers and rest, an attack of angle-closure glaucoma may cause unrelenting pain. However, you may notice the pain diminish and then return within a short period of time.

  • Nausea and/or vomiting: During an attack of angle-closure glaucoma, the individual may feel nauseated, with or without vomiting.

  • Redness within the affected eye: To the layman, the eye redness may be attributed to other factors. You may be inclined to believe your "bloodshot eyes" are due to lack of sleep, over-indulging in alcohol, or allergies. While any of the above may cause occasional redness of the eyes, this could be a sign of angle-closure glaucoma, especially if other symptoms are present.

  • Dilated or fixed pupils: This may be especially pronounced when entering a darkened room.

In conclusion, to prevent vision loss, you should consider this eye disease as an emergency that requires immediate treatment. A test known as a tonometry will measure the intraocular pressure of your eyes, and this may help your optometrist perform a diagnosis. A vision test may also be performed. If your optometrist feels you have acute angle-closure glaucoma, he or she may refer you to a specialist for surgery to reduce the pressure and drain the blocked canal. Look for eye care services by Dr Gary Wetmore or another optometrist in your are to get started.