Common Causes of Glaucoma

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Glaucoma is an eye disorder that causes damage to the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss. According to the American Optometric Association, in the United States, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness and is estimated to affect about 3 million Americans. Risk factors include having a family history of the condition, chronic eye inflammation and being over the age of 40. The reason why some people develop glaucoma is not completely understood, but some possible causes are listed below. 

Poor Blood Flow and Glaucoma

Certain types of glaucoma may be caused by poor blood flow to the optic nerve. According to National Institutes of Health, studies conducted concluded that individuals with primary open angle glaucoma had reduced blood flow in the eye. There are various reasons why blood flow could be decreased, such as an eye injury or a congenital condition. Conditions, such as diabetes, may also cause problems with blood flow throughout the body including the eyes. 

Structural Defects

Having certain structural defects within the eye is considered a possible cause of glaucoma. For example, some people have a narrow angle between the iris and the cornea, which can interfere with fluid drainage. Pressure in the eye can increase and cause damage leading to glaucoma. 

In addition to structural defects, there are a few syndromes that may lead to glaucoma. The most common syndrome associated with glaucoma is pseudoexfoliation syndrome. When this syndrome occurs, flakes of fibrous material peel off the lens of the eye. The material may block the drainage of fluid from the eye and increase pressure, which in turn can lead to glaucoma.  

Medical Conditions and Injuries that Contribute to Glaucoma

Having certain medical conditions or eye injuries may also contribute to the development of glaucoma. For instance, having a previous injury to the eye or eye surgery can damage the area of the eye, which allows the fluid to drain properly. Overtime this can lead to optic nerve damage. 

Medical conditions that cause a decrease in perfusion may also contribute to glaucoma. Perfusion is the process of blood moving through the body. Various medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, can affect how efficiently blood flows to areas such as the eye. Other conditions that may possibly contribute to glaucoma include sickle cell disease, sleep apnea and hypothyroidism. Individuals who have certain medical conditions may be advised to have more frequent screening for glaucoma since they are at increased risk of developing the condition. 


In some cases, glaucoma may be caused by long-term steroid use. Steroids are commonly prescribed to treat various conditions, such as asthma, skin inflammation and arthritis. The risk of steroids leading to glaucoma appears to be related to the route of administration. Depending on the condition being treated steroids may be given orally, through a nasal spray and inhaler or through eye drops. Inhaled steroids appear to have the lowest association with the development of glaucoma. Oral steroids taken for a long period of time may lead to glaucoma in some people. Steroids administered topically into the eye have the highest risk of leading to glaucoma. 

Although there is currently no way to prevent glaucoma, early detection is essential in order to save vision. Since vision loss may be the first symptom of the condition, regular eye exams, which can help detect glaucoma, should be scheduled. According to the National Eye Institute, although there is currently no cure, early detection can help slow down the progression of glaucoma. Treatment may include medication and laser or conventional surgery to lower eye pressure.  


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