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What is Neovascular Glaucoma?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

Neovascular glaucoma is a potentially serious eye disorder characterized by excessive growth of new blood vessels in and around the retina. People who develop the condition can have symptoms that range from minor vision disturbances to debilitating headaches and total vision loss. Many factors can contribute to neovascular glaucoma, including diabetes, blood clotting disorders, eye trauma, and infections. The disorder must be recognized and treated promptly to prevent major complications. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and the underlying causes, but many people need a combination of medical care and surgery to avoid losing their eyesight.

A person can develop neovascular glaucoma at any age, but it is more common among elderly people than other age groups. The condition occurs when new blood vessels begin to stem from existing vessels, proliferating wildly and occupying space underneath the cornea. The new vessels are typically very fragile and prone to breaking open, which leads to increased blood and fluid in the eye. Excess fluid that cannot drain fast enough results in an increase in pressure and retinal swelling.

Glaucoma causes a person to lose vision gradually.
Glaucoma causes a person to lose vision gradually.

One of the most common predisposing factors for neovascular glaucoma is diabetes mellitus. The blood sugar disorder impairs fluid drainage canals in the eyes and prompts new blood vessels to form. A person can also develop neovascular glaucoma because of an injury or infection that causes major swelling and irritation. Congenital or acquired blood and blood vessel disorders can also lead to eye complications. Finally, hormonal changes due to some types of cancer may cause neovascularization in the eyes and elsewhere in the body.

A person can develop neovascular glaucoma at any age.
A person can develop neovascular glaucoma at any age.

In the early stages of the disease, a person may or may not have noticeable symptoms. Common initial symptoms include slight sensitivity to bright light, difficulties focusing on nearby objects or written text, and mild pain behind one or both eyes. As the condition progresses, a person's vision usually becomes distorted and light sensitivity becomes worse. It also may be possible to see broken vessels around the iris. Advanced neovascular glaucoma often involves migraines, nausea, extreme light sensitivity, excessive tearing, and major vision disturbances.

Neovascular glaucoma is more common among elderly people.
Neovascular glaucoma is more common among elderly people.

An ophthalmologist can diagnose early stage neovascular glaucoma through a relatively simple eye exam. Treatment usually consists of topical anti-inflammatory creams as well as specialized medications to reduce or stop new blood vessel growth. If an underlying cause such as diabetes or infection is discovered, it is managed accordingly to reduce the chances of future complications.

Neovascular glaucoma often causes blurred or cloudy vision.
Neovascular glaucoma often causes blurred or cloudy vision.

If a person experiences sudden vision changes that may be related to a late-stage disease, it is important to visit a emergency room for an immediate diagnosis. Steroid injections or topical ointments are administered to relieve swelling, and pain medications are provided for migraines. Surgery may be needed in extreme cases to manually drain fluid, burn away vessels, and create new canals for future fluid drainage. Most people who receive prompt treatment are able to maintain at least some of their vision.

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    • Glaucoma causes a person to lose vision gradually.
      By: blueringmedia
      Glaucoma causes a person to lose vision gradually.
    • A person can develop neovascular glaucoma at any age.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      A person can develop neovascular glaucoma at any age.
    • Neovascular glaucoma is more common among elderly people.
      By: Mikael Damkier
      Neovascular glaucoma is more common among elderly people.
    • Neovascular glaucoma often causes blurred or cloudy vision.
      By: JPC-PROD
      Neovascular glaucoma often causes blurred or cloudy vision.
    • Neovascular glaucoma is more common in the elderly and can be diagnosed with a simple eye exam.
      By: Monkey Business
      Neovascular glaucoma is more common in the elderly and can be diagnosed with a simple eye exam.