Symptoms of Glaucoma

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It is estimated that about half of all people with glaucoma are not aware that they have it, according to the National Eye Institute.

There are a few different forms of the condition. Open-angle glaucoma, which doesn't usually produce early symptoms, is the most common. With glaucoma, you might not know that you have a problem until you begin to lose vision. This is why it's important that you go for your yearly eye exam with your eye doctor so they can determine if you have glaucoma or are at risk of developing the condition.

Types of Glaucoma

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Frequent Symptoms

Each form of glaucoma can cause different symptoms.

Open-Angle Glaucoma

This form of glaucoma affects about 4 million Americans. The process happens slowly and can eventually affect peripheral vision. As it progresses and more peripheral vision is lost, tunnel vision may develop.

With this condition, the drainage system around the eye becomes clogged over time, causing eye pressure to rise. This may begin to affect the optic nerve.

Vision loss due to glaucoma is not reversible. However, if the condition is detected during a regular eye exam before vision is affected, there are measures that can be taken to help protect vision.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

For those with angle-closure glaucoma, the angle between the cornea (the clear dome of the eye) and the iris (the colored portion) becomes blocked, and eye pressure dramatically rises.

Some early indications that an angle-closure attack may be brewing include blurry vision, colored halos around lights, eye pain, or a slight headache.

Symptoms of an angle-closure glaucoma attack can come on suddenly and can include:

  • Severe pain of the eye or forehead
  • Blurred vision
  • Rainbow auras around lights
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sight loss

if you experience possible symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma, you should immediately seek medical assistance. If the pressure in the eye is not treated, the optic nerve can be damaged soon after.

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

With normal-tension glaucoma, otherwise known as low-pressure, eye pressure is in the normal range. Usually, there are no symptoms, but at late stages, you might develop blind spots in your visual field as a result of damage to the optic nerve.

If you notice blind spots, it is very important to report these to your healthcare provider. Once the condition is identified, steps can be taken to try to keep further damage from occurring.

Pigmentary Dispersion Syndrome (PDS)

In cases of pigmentary dispersion syndrome, the pigment from the colored portion of the eye can rub off and clog the eye's drainage system. This causes pressure in the eye to rise. People with high myopia (nearsightedness) may be at more risk for this.

Symptoms can occur after exertion, such as jogging, and may include:

  • Halos or auras
  • Blurry vision

Seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms.

Rare Symptoms

In addition to common forms of glaucoma, there are also some more unusual types that may bring less common symptoms.

Neovascular Glaucoma

For those with neovascular glaucoma, the formation of new blood vessels get in the way of the angle between the cornea and the iris. Risk factors include diabetic eye disease and retinal vein blockage.

In the early stages of neovascular glaucoma, there may be no symptoms.

As it progresses, symptoms can include:

  • Redness
  • Eye pain
  • Decreased vision

Iridocorneal Endothelial Syndrome

With this unusual form of glaucoma, corneal cells can block the eye's drainage system, causing pressure to rise. In some cases, these cells form adhesions to the colored part of the eye that can further block drainage.

This condition can cause:

  • Hazy vision, especially when first waking up
  • Halos around lights
  • Eye pain

This condition is more common among women with fair skin and may only affect one eye.

Complications/Sub-Group Indications

Glaucoma can also have different effects depending on age and other issues, such as eye trauma.

Childhood Glaucoma

Children who have glaucoma might not have symptoms, but can develop different symptoms than adults who have glaucoma.

Childhood glaucoma can cause:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Gray hazy cornea
  • Enlarged eye (can be noticeable in a photo before the condition is diagnosed)
  • Excessive tearing
  • Loss of vision

In addition to eye-related symptoms, some children can have associated systemic symptoms. Children may become especially fussy, lose their appetite, or begin vomiting. These symptoms are associated with angle-closure and may be relieved once the eye pressure is lowered.

Symptoms of congenital (from birth) glaucoma may be noticeable as early as when a child is 1 month of age.

Classic signs of congenital glaucoma:

  • Blinking
  • Tearing
  • Avoiding light

Congenital glaucoma can develop if the eye's drainage system is malformed, and the condition requires treatment.

Traumatic Glaucoma

Anyone can experience trauma-related glaucoma, but it is most commonly sports-related and can occur if someone is hit in the eye, such as by a ball or a bat.

  • Blunt trauma can cause bleeding in the eye. Plasma and other debris can block the eye's drainage system and lead to increased eye pressure.
  • A sharp penetrating injury to the eye can lead to delayed glaucoma. Initially, the pressure may be low, but once the wound is closed, swelling may begin, causing pressure to rise and glaucoma to follow.
  • Trauma can lead to angle recession glaucoma, which is a tear in the space between the iris and the cornea that produces scar tissue and eventually leads to glaucoma.

Be sure to mention any history of eye trauma to your eye doctor because traumatic glaucoma can occur even 10-20 years or more later. It usually doesn't cause symptoms until vision loss occurs, when it's too late to treat.

Some signs to be aware of include:

  • Intense brow ache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sudden vision loss.

These issues may occur right after the injury or years later. Symptoms may indicate that your eye pressure has spiked and you need prompt medical attention.

When to See a Healthcare Provider/Go to the Hospital

Glaucoma can be slowly progressive, but acute changes can occur with any type of glaucoma. Sudden changes may signify a medical emergency.

Warning signs include:

  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Eye redness
  • Sudden blurry vision
  • Severe eye pain

If you have these symptoms, it may mean that the angle of your eye has become suddenly blocked. You should immediately seek medical attention since this type of glaucoma can result in blindness within just a few days.

A Word From Verywell

Before serious effects of glaucoma occur, you might not have any symptoms. Asymptomatic high eye pressure is treatable and can be detected during a visit with your eye doctor. If you have vision or eye symptoms, seek prompt attention. Lost vision typically cannot be recovered, but it is possible to prevent progression with treatment.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Eye Institute, Glaucoma, July 28, 2020.

  2. Bright Focus Foundation, Glaucoma: Signs & symptoms.

  3. Glaucoma Research Foundation, What are the symptoms of glaucoma? September 18, 2019.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology, What are common glaucoma symptoms? October 9, 2020.

  5. Bright Focus Foundation, What is neovascular glaucoma? November 13, 2017.

  6. Glaucoma Research Foundation, Rare forms of glaucoma, June 14, 2018.

  7. Glaucoma Research Foundation, Symptoms of childhood glaucoma, December 22, 2020.

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Pediatric ophthalmologist Courtney Kraus on glaucoma in children. July 26, 2018.

  9. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Traumatic glaucoma. July 30, 2019.

  10. University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, Traumatic glaucoma, November 2014.

  11. National Eye Institute, Types of glaucoma, December 22, 2020.

By Maxine Lipner
Maxine Lipner is a long-time health and medical writer with over 30 years of experience covering ophthalmology, oncology, and general health and wellness.