Glaucoma: diagnosis

Glaucoma is usually categorized as open- or closed-angle glaucoma, and then subdivided into primary or secondary open- or closed-angle glaucoma. Most people with glaucoma have the type known as chronic open-angle glaucoma, which demonstrates virtually no detectable symptoms early on.

In fact, most types of glaucoma don't have any symptoms, so you would not expect to be aware of any eye problems. However, some more unusual types of glaucoma, which begin with rapid high elevation of intraocular pressure, are associated with eye pain or headache, blurred vision with the appearance of colored halos around lights, or occasionally, redness of the whites of the eyes.

Seeing your ophthalmologist for regular eye checkups plays a very important role in catching glaucoma early on. The earlier glaucoma is detected, the earlier it can be treated and the less damage it will cause to your optic nerve fibers. Hence, a debilitating loss of vision can be avoided.

What your ophthalmologist needs to know from you

Medical history

Your ophthalmologist will need to obtain a detailed medical history of your eyes, as well as your general health. For example, your ophthalmologist will need know if you have diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), systemic hypertension (high blood pressure), thyroid disease, heart disease, stroke, migraine, and other related disorders and if you have a family history of glaucoma. Although these factors do have a bearing on the diagnosis of glaucoma, the level of intraocular pressures has no relationship to the systemic blood pressure or tear circulation, which are completely different and independent systems.


Your ophthalmologist will also need to know what medications you are taking because drugs such as cortisone or prednisone can cause an elevation in the intraocular pressures.

Eye tests

Your ophthalmologist will perform a number of different eye tests to determine what, if any, is the existing state of damage to the nerve fibers in your optic disc. These tests include measuring your intraocular pressures with a tonometer or tonopen as well as measuring the outflow angle of the eye using a goniolens.

Peripheral vision

If a loss of peripheral vision is detected, your ophthalmologist will examine your optic nerve discs for signs of physical damage. Normally the optic disc is flat, but if the intraocular pressure is elevated there will be an indentation in the disc, making it look like a cup. This is appropriately called "cupping." Your doctor will use an ophthalmoscope to assess the optic nerve for cupping, as well as the retina for any defects in the nerve fiber layer.

Other symptoms

In later stages of glaucoma some symptoms may be present, such as:

  • loss of side vision (peripheral vision)
  • difficulty focusing on close work
  • seeing colored rings or halos around lights
  • headaches and eye pain
  • frequent changes of prescription glasses
  • difficulty adjusting eyes to the dark

If you have any of these symptoms, see your ophthalmologist.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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