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Will I Go Blind If I Have Glaucoma?

I'm a former pharmacy technician and certified medical office assistant. I'm also a health nerd/ hypochondriac and knowledge eases my fears.

Whether glaucoma leads to blindness is the million-dollar question many glaucoma sufferers wonder about, but may not have the courage to ask.

Perhaps, you were recently diagnosed with glaucoma and want to learn more about this condition, or perhaps you have been diagnosed for some time and you're worried about progression.

Whether you have health anxiety or not, glaucoma can be a scary condition, especially if you know somebody who has become visually impaired as a result.

So does glaucoma really lead to blindness or is this just something that happens to just a few unfortunate folks? This is really not an easy question to answer as the answer may vary based on several factors.

To grasp a better understanding of the chances, it helps to first gain a deeper understanding of what glaucoma exactly is and how it impacts your eye, and ultimately, your vision.

Tonometry testing is just one way of diagnosing glaucoma

Tonometry testing is just one way of diagnosing glaucoma

What Exactly Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma takes place when there is an increase in the pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure–IOP).

This pressure is caused by faulty drainage of the aqueous humor, a clear fluid inside the eye. When the drainage is impaired, the pressure inside the eye increases, preventing blood flow to the optic nerve.

Reduced blood flow ends up damaging the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images from the eye to the brain.

Several factors increase your risk for glaucoma. It's most common among people over 40 and among African Americans and Hispanics, as well as people with a family history of the disease.

According to a study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, it is estimated that people with a brother or sister with this eye condition, are four times more likely to develop it too compared to the expected population risk.

Other risk factors include thin corneas, and chronic inflammation of the eye.

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. It is estimated that glaucoma will affect over 111 million by 2040, with the majority being affected by open-angle glaucoma.

The Problem With Glaucoma

People with open-angle glaucoma usually develop symptoms slowly and without pain, so they may not know they are suffering from it until they have significant vision loss in one or both eyes.

Generally, glaucoma starts slowly and first affects peripheral vision before progressing to the central vision.

Sadly, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of people have glaucoma and do not know it.

Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease, meaning that, left untreated, it will progress. Early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma is therefore crucial.

Statistics of Blindness Due to Glaucoma World Wide

In 2013, it was estimated that there were 64 million people affected by glaucoma, and diagnosis is expected to increase to 111 million by 2040.

Statistically, glaucoma has been found to be the second main cause of irreversible blindness worldwide with 7 million having lost vision in both eyes.

Glaucoma has been found to be responsible for 10 to 11 percent of blindness in people from Western Europe and U.S. with this percentage progressively increasing.

There is diversity in statistics though. For example, in one study, blindness as a result of primary open-angle glaucoma found 15 to 27 percent of affected people to have lost vision in one eye, while 6 to 12 percent lost vision in both.

Other studies found that out of 600 patients 42 percent developed blindness in one eye and 16 percent in both eyes, while a Chinese study found blindness at presentation ranging from 6 percent to 30 percent.

Such variances in results are likely due to several different factors such as age, race, sex, presence of high myopia and family history.

Will I Go Blind if I Have Glaucoma?

Being that glaucoma is a chronic and degenerative eye disease, it has a progressive nature. If left untreated, it can therefore progress to the point of causing vision loss.

Primary open-angle glaucoma is the main cause of blindness worldwide. This type of blindness is irreversible, meaning that it cannot be reversed nor treated.

The chances of an individual going blind from glaucoma, are not easy to predict, considering that there are several factors to consider.

How Likely Will Glaucoma Progress to Blindness?

Statistically, the chances of becoming blind may range between 19 and 27 percent in one eye, and 9 percent in both eyes.

According to a multicentric data review, when several glaucoma patients were followed in University Eye Clinics, about 20 percent of glaucoma patients lost vision in at least one eye.

Risk factors for progression to blindness included a late diagnosis, progression of the disease despite normal ranges of intraocular pressure, and older age at diagnosis.

This emphasis the importance of early screening.

Patient compliance with eye drop therapy is important.

Patient compliance with eye drop therapy is important.

Successful glaucoma treatment is controlling the delicate balance between eye pressures and adequate blood inflow to the eyes with its nutrients and oxygen, and preserving as much vision as possible for the life of the patient.

— Dr. Danny Hum, OD Eyecare Basics

Glaucoma, the Silent "Stealer"

It can be said that glaucoma is a silent "stealer" considering how the symptoms of glaucoma may be hard to detect early, and how, when left untreated, it can steal peoples' vision.

Diagnosing glaucoma early is therefore crucial for preventing further vision loss. Diagnosis is made easy with regular examinations and tests such as checking eye pressure and monitoring visual fields and nerve fiber layers.

Left untreated, or undetected, glaucoma can lead to permanent blindness. The blindness is more likely, the longer one has had the condition.

A 2013 study, which followed patients for a lifetime, found that approximately 1 out of 6 glaucoma patients will go blind in both eyes at their last visit, while more than 40 percent were blind in at least one eye.

Blindness was most likely to occur at older ages with most patients who were blind in both eyes being older than 80 years old.

The Good News

One piece of good news is that the incidence of becoming blind as a result of glaucoma has decreased compared to earlier times.

According to a study, the chances of becoming blind in at least one eye at 20 years have decreased from 25.8 percent for patients diagnosed between 1965 to 1980 to 13.5 percent for patients diagnosed between 1981 and 2000.

The population incidence of becoming blind within 10 years has apparently decreased as well. From 8.7 per 100 000 for patients diagnosed between 1965 and 1980, the incidence has lowered to 5.5 per 100 000 for patients diagnosed between 1981 and 2000.

Knowledge Is Power

Fortunately, early detection and ongoing treatment can help. Glaucoma treatments aim to lower the intraocular pressure in the eyes by increasing drainage.

Usually, these treatments involve prescription eye drops, but you may also be prescribed oral medications or laser treatments. Treatments cannot reverse the damage that has already occurred, however, they can help prevent further vision loss.

References

  • Rossetti L, Digiuni M, Giovanni M, Centofanti M, Fea AM, Iester M, et al. (2015) Blindness and Glaucoma: A Multicenter Data Review from 7 Academic Eye Clinics. PLoS ONE 1
  • Kwon Y, Kim C, Zimmerman M, et al. Rate of visual field loss and long-term visual outcome in primary open-angle glaucoma. Am J Ophthalmol. 2001
  • Quigley HA. Number of people with glaucoma worldwide. Br J Ophthalmol. 1996 May;80
  • Boland M, Quigley H. Risk factors and open-angle glaucoma: classification and application. J Glaucoma. 2007
  • Sung, V. British Journal of Ophthalmology. 2006; vol. 90: 59-63. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals
  • Tham, Y. C. et al. Validity of a new optic disc grading software for use in clinical and epidemiological research. Clin. Exp. Ophthalmol. 41, 842–852
  • Tham YC, Li X, Wong TY, Quigley HA, Aung T, Cheng CY. Global prevalence of glaucoma and projections of glaucoma burden through 2040: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ophthalmology. 2014 Nov
  • Peters D, Bengtsson B, Heijl A. Lifetime risk of blindness in open-angle glaucoma. Am J Ophthalmol. 2013 Oct
  • Grant W.M.Burke J.F. Why do some people go blind from glaucoma?.
    Ophthalmology. 1982; 89: 991-998

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Adrian Rolla