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Types of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging a nerve in the back of your eye called the optic nerve.

Each type of glaucoma is different, but most have no early symptoms — so it’s important to get tested regularly, especially if you’re at higher risk.

Primary glaucomas

Open-angle glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment, surgery  

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type in the United States, where 9 in 10 people with glaucoma have the open-angle type. Many people don’t have any symptoms until they start to lose their vision, and people may not notice vision loss right away. 

Experts aren’t sure what causes open-angle glaucoma, but it may be caused by pressure building up in your eye. If the fluid in your eye can’t drain fast enough, it creates pressure that pushes on the optic nerve in the back of your eye.  

Over time, the pressure damages the optic nerve, which affects your vision. This can eventually lead to blindness. In fact, open-angle glaucoma causes almost 2 in 10 cases of blindness in African Americans. People with high blood pressure or diabetes are at higher risk for this type. 

Normal-tension glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment, surgery

Normal-tension glaucoma is a type of open-angle glaucoma that happens in people with normal eye pressure.    

You may be at higher risk for normal-tension glaucoma if you: 

  • Are of Japanese ancestry 
  • Have a family history of normal-tension glaucoma 
  • Have had certain heart problems, like an irregular heartbeat 
  • Have low blood pressure 

Experts don’t know what causes normal-tension glaucoma, but research shows that treatments that lower eye pressure can help slow the disease and stop vision loss.

Angle-closure glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment

Angle-closure glaucoma, also called narrow-angle or acute glaucoma, is a medical emergency. Go to the doctor or emergency room immediately if you suddenly have: 

  • Intense eye pain 
  • Upset stomach (nausea) 
  • Red eye 
  • Blurry vision 

In this type of glaucoma, the outer edge of the iris (the colored part of your eye) blocks fluid from draining out of the front of the eye. The fluid builds up quickly, causing a sudden increase in eye pressure. If it’s not treated, angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness in just a few days. 

A doctor can use laser treatment and give you medicine to help the fluid drain. This can lower eye pressure and protect your vision. Your doctor might treat both eyes to prevent future problems, even if you only have angle-closure glaucoma in 1 eye. 

Another type of angle-closure glaucoma, sometimes called slow or chronic angle-closure glaucoma, happens more slowly and might not have any symptoms. Your doctor can treat this type with medicines, laser treatments, or surgery. 

Congenital glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, surgery

In congenital glaucoma, babies are born with a problem in their eye that keeps fluid from draining normally. Congenital glaucoma is rare — only about 1 in 10,000 babies born in the United States have it.

If your child is born with glaucoma, you can usually notice the signs right away. Children with congenital glaucoma: 

  • Have cloudy eyes 
  • Are sensitive to light 
  • Make extra tears 
  • May have eyes that are larger than normal 

Surgery works very well to treat congenital glaucoma. If babies get surgery early enough, they usually won’t have any permanent vision loss. 

Several other types of glaucoma can also develop in children. Any glaucoma that affects babies or children is called pediatric glaucoma. 

Secondary glaucomas

Sometimes glaucoma is caused by another medical condition — this is called secondary glaucoma.

Neovascular glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment, surgery

Neovascular glaucoma happens when the eye makes extra blood vessels that cover the part of your eye where fluid would normally drain. It’s usually caused by another medical condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure.  

If you have neovascular glaucoma, you may notice: 

  • Pain or redness in your eye 
  • Vision loss 

This type of glaucoma can be hard to treat. Doctors need to treat the underlying cause (like diabetes or high blood pressure) and use glaucoma treatments to lower your eye pressure. 

Pigmentary glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment, surgery

Pigmentary glaucoma happens when the pigment (color) from your iris (the colored part of your eye) flakes off and blocks fluid from draining out of your eye.

Young, white men who are near-sighted are more likely to get pigmentary glaucoma. If you have this condition, you may have blurry vision or see rainbow-colored rings around lights, especially when you exercise.  

Doctors can treat pigmentary glaucoma by lowering eye pressure, but there currently isn’t a way to prevent pigment from flaking off of the iris. 

Exfoliation glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, laser treatment, surgery

Exfoliation glaucoma (sometimes called pseudoexfoliation) is a type of open-angle glaucoma that happens in some people with exfoliation syndrome, a condition that causes extra material to deposit on parts of the eye and block fluid from draining.  

Recent research shows that genetics may play a role in exfoliation glaucoma. You’re at higher risk if someone else in your family has exfoliation glaucoma. 

This type of glaucoma can progress faster than primary open-angle glaucoma, and often causes higher eye pressure. This means that it’s especially important for people who are at risk to get regular eye exams to protect their vision.  

Uveitic glaucoma

Treatments: Medicines, surgery

Uveitic glaucoma can happen in people who have uveitis, a condition that causes swelling and inflammation in the eye. About 2 in 10 people with uveitis develop uveitic glaucoma. 

Experts aren’t sure how uveitis causes uveitic glaucoma, but they think that it may happen because uveitis can cause inflammation and scar tissue in the middle of the eye. This may damage or block the part of the eye where fluid drains out, causing high eye pressure and leading to uveitic glaucoma and vision loss.  

Some medicines that treat uveitis — called steroids — may also cause uveitic glaucoma, or make it worse. This is because steroids may raise eye pressure as a side effect. 

Other causes

Other health conditions like cataracts and tumors can cause glaucoma too — but this isn’t as common.

Eye injuries can also cause glaucoma — that’s why it’s so important to wear protective eyewear, like safety glasses and goggles. Protective eyewear is designed to protect your eyes during certain activities, like playing sports, doing construction work, or doing home repairs. You can buy them from most eye care providers and some sporting goods stores.

Last updated: September 10, 2021