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Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the eye's optic nerve that worsens over time. Often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye, glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause blindness.

The University of Kansas Health System is an academic health system that learns of leading-edge glaucoma treatments as they develop. Because we’re connected to ongoing research through clinical trials, our patients are often among the first to benefit from these new advances.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma causes increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, that harms the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits images to the brain. If the damage continues, glaucoma causes permanent loss of vision.

Because many people with glaucoma don’t notice any symptoms, the effects can be gradual until optic nerve damage is advanced. In people over the age of 60, glaucoma is one of the main causes of blindness. However, glaucoma can occur at any age.

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Types of glaucoma

There are several different types of glaucoma, but there are 2 main types:

Glaucoma symptoms and risks

In most cases, intraocular pressure does not cause pain or other early symptoms. This is why it’s so important to see your eye doctor regularly, so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term vision loss occurs.

Possible symptoms of glaucoma include:

  • Blind spots in your peripheral vision
  • Decreased or blurry vision
  • Eye redness
  • Headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Severe pain in the eye
  • Vision disturbances such as halos

If you're over 40 years of age or have a family history of glaucoma, you should see your eye doctor for a complete eye exam every 1 to 2 years. This may need to be more frequent if you have health problems, such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, or are at risk for other eye diseases.

Glaucoma diagnosis and screening

Catching the signs of glaucoma early is essential to slow and prevent vision loss. The best way to diagnose glaucoma is with a complete eye exam. During an eye exam, your eye doctor will check eye pressure as part of standard glaucoma screening, along with other aspects of your eye health:

  • Checking for any damage to your optic nerve
  • Measuring the angle between your cornea and iris
  • Measuring the thickness of your cornea
  • Testing your peripheral vision

Glaucoma treatment

Glaucoma is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. While the damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed, the right glaucoma treatment can help slow the disease’s progression. Glaucoma treatment focuses on reducing intraocular pressure to limit the damage to the optic nerve.

The primary initial treatment for glaucoma is administering eye drops to help reduce intraocular pressure. Laser surgery is another option for treating glaucoma. With laser surgery, your eye doctor can help improve drainage to reduce pressure on the eye.

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