open angle glaucoma vs closed angle glaucoma melbourne

Open Angle Glaucoma vs Closed Angle Glaucoma: Understanding the Differences and Impacts

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that can lead to vision loss by damaging the optic nerve, essential for good vision. This damage is often caused by an abnormally high pressure in your eye. Among the various types of glaucoma, open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma are the most prevalent, each presenting unique challenges and requiring different approaches to management. This blog post aims to demystify these conditions, focusing on their distinctions, diagnosis, and treatment strategies to preserve vision and prevent further damage.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, the vital link between the eye and the brain, allowing us to see. When the intraocular pressure (IOP) — the pressure inside the eye — increases, it can cause optic nerve damage, leading to vision loss. However, not all glaucoma cases involve elevated IOP, making diagnosis and management a complex process.

Open Angle Glaucoma vs Closed Angle Glaucoma: Understanding the Differences

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Open Angle Glaucoma

Open angle glaucoma, as the most prevalent form of glaucoma, requires a nuanced approach to management and understanding. Its characteristic slow progression and the lack of early warning signs make it particularly treacherous, as many individuals remain unaware of the condition until significant vision loss has occurred. Here, we delve deeper into the specifics of open angle glaucoma, exploring its pathophysiology, management strategies, and the importance of early intervention.

Pathophysiology of Open Angle Glaucoma

Open angle glaucoma is primarily characterised by increased resistance to aqueous humour outflow through the trabecular meshwork, the eye’s drainage system. Despite the drainage angle being anatomically open, the trabecular meshwork becomes less efficient over time. This inefficiency leads to a gradual buildup of intraocular pressure (IOP), which can eventually cause damage to the optic nerve fibres and retinal ganglion cells, resulting in vision loss.

Closed Angle Glaucoma

Closed angle glaucoma, also known as angle closure glaucoma, presents a different set of challenges compared to open angle glaucoma, largely due to its potential for acute onset and the rapid increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) that can occur. This condition necessitates immediate medical attention to prevent irreversible vision loss. Understanding the specifics of closed angle glaucoma, including its pathophysiology, risk factors, and management strategies, is crucial for prompt diagnosis and effective treatment.

Pathophysiology of Closed Angle Glaucoma

Closed angle glaucoma is characterised by a physical blockage of the eye’s drainage channels, which can lead to a sudden and dramatic increase in intraocular pressure. This blockage typically occurs when the iris bulges forward to narrow or block the drainage angle formed between the iris and the cornea. When the drainage angle is closed, the aqueous humor cannot exit the eye as fast as it’s produced, causing the IOP to rise quickly.

There are two primary forms of angle closure glaucoma:

  • Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma: This is a medical emergency that can cause rapid vision loss. Symptoms include severe eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and seeing halos around lights.
  • Chronic Angle Closure Glaucoma: This form progresses more slowly and can be asymptomatic like open angle glaucoma, often going unnoticed until significant damage has occurred.

Risk Factors Discussion

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Risk factors for glaucoma are crucial in identifying individuals at higher risk of developing this eye condition. While specific risk factors can vary between open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma, understanding these can help in the early detection and prevention of the disease. Here, we explore the common and distinct risk factors for both types of glaucoma.

Common Risk Factors for Both Types of Glaucoma

  • Age: The risk of developing glaucoma increases with age, particularly for individuals over 40.
  • Ethnic Background: People of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent have a higher risk of developing certain types of glaucoma. African Americans are at increased risk for open angle glaucoma, while Asians are more prone to closed angle glaucoma.
  • Family History: Having a family history of glaucoma increases the risk of developing the condition. This risk is higher if immediate family members (parents, siblings) have glaucoma.
  • High Intraocular Pressure (IOP): Elevated IOP is a significant risk factor for glaucoma, although glaucoma can also occur at normal IOP levels (normal-tension glaucoma).
  • Medical Conditions: Certain systemic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, can increase the risk of developing glaucoma.

Specific Risk Factors for Open Angle Glaucoma

  • Thin Corneas: Individuals with thinner corneas are at increased risk for developing open angle glaucoma.
  • High Myopia: Severe nearsightedness (myopia) is associated with a greater risk of open angle glaucoma.
  • Prolonged Steroid Use: Use of corticosteroid medications, especially in high doses or over a long period, can increase the risk of glaucoma.

Specific Risk Factors for Closed Angle Glaucoma

  • Hyperopia: Farsightedness (hyperopia) is a risk factor for closed angle glaucoma because it can result in a shallow anterior chamber, making angle closure more likely.
  • Anterior Chamber Depth: A shallow anterior chamber of the eye is a risk factor for angle closure glaucoma, as it indicates less space in the front part of the eye, increasing the risk of the iris blocking the trabecular meshwork.
  • Sex: Women are at higher risk for closed angle glaucoma compared to men, possibly due to differences in eye anatomy and physiology.

Other Considerations

  • Ocular Hypertension: While not a form of glaucoma, ocular hypertension (higher than normal IOP without evidence of optic nerve damage) is considered a risk factor for developing glaucoma in the future.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as limited physical activity, can influence IOP and glaucoma risk. Conversely, regular exercise has been shown to lower IOP and may reduce the risk of glaucoma.
  • Eye Injury: Past or present eye injuries can increase the risk of developing secondary glaucoma, a type of glaucoma caused by an eye injury, inflammation, or other eye conditions.

Comparison of Glaucoma Symptoms

When comparing the symptoms of open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma, it’s crucial to understand that these conditions often present very differently, reflecting their distinct mechanisms and the rapidity with which they affect intraocular pressure (IOP) and the optic nerve. Here’s an overview of how the symptoms of these two major types of glaucoma compare:

Open Angle Glaucoma Symptoms

Open angle glaucoma is often called the “silent thief of sight” because it typically progresses very slowly and without noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Many individuals with this form of glaucoma do not experience pain or acute symptoms, which makes it particularly dangerous as it can lead to significant vision loss before it is detected. Key points regarding its symptoms include:

  • Gradual Loss of Peripheral Vision: This usually occurs in both eyes. In the early stages, it can be so subtle that it goes unnoticed until significant vision loss has occurred.
  • Tunnel Vision: In advanced stages, open angle glaucoma can lead to tunnel vision, where the central vision remains intact, but the peripheral vision is severely compromised.
  • Asymptomatic in Early Stages: Most individuals with open angle glaucoma do not experience symptoms early on, which is why regular eye exams are crucial for early detection.

Closed Angle Glaucoma Symptoms

In contrast to open angle glaucoma, closed angle glaucoma can present with sudden and dramatic symptoms, especially in acute cases. This form of glaucoma is often considered a medical emergency because of the rapid onset of symptoms and the potential for immediate vision loss if not treated promptly. Symptoms can include:

  • Severe Eye Pain: One of the hallmark symptoms of acute angle closure glaucoma is intense pain in the eye, which may also be accompanied by headache.
  • Blurred Vision: Sudden onset of blurred vision or halos around lights can occur as the IOP spikes.
  • Redness of the Eye: The eye may appear red due to the sudden increase in pressure.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: These are less common but significant symptoms that can accompany the severe eye pain and increased IOP associated with acute angle closure attacks.
  • Sudden Visual Disturbance: In low-light conditions, where the pupil dilates, the risk of angle closure and symptomatic presentation increases.

Why Symptom Recognition Matters

The stark difference in symptom presentation between open and closed angle glaucoma highlights the importance of awareness and early detection. For open angle glaucoma, the lack of early symptoms means that without regular eye screenings, individuals are unlikely to know they have the condition until significant vision loss has occurred. In contrast, the acute symptoms of closed angle glaucoma signify a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent vision loss.

The Role of Regular Eye Exams

Given the asymptomatic nature of open angle glaucoma in its early stages and the potential for rapid vision loss with closed angle glaucoma, regular comprehensive eye exams are critical. These exams can detect glaucoma signs before symptoms appear for open angle glaucoma or before an acute attack occurs in closed angle glaucoma. For individuals at higher risk (due to age, family history, or other risk factors), more frequent eye exams are recommended.

The Difference in Diagnosing Glaucoma

Diagnosing glaucoma involves a series of tests and examinations that assess the health of the eye, focusing on intraocular pressure (IOP), the condition of the optic nerve, and the drainage angle. These diagnostic steps are crucial for both open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma, although the urgency and specific focus may differ between the two conditions due to their distinct nature.

Diagnostic Approaches for Open Angle Glaucoma

The diagnosis of open angle glaucoma typically involves a comprehensive eye examination with several key components:

  • Tonometry: This test measures the IOP. Elevated pressure is a significant risk factor for glaucoma, though it’s possible to have glaucoma even with normal IOP (normal-tension glaucoma).
  • Ophthalmoscopy: This involves examining the optic nerve for signs of damage. A small device with a light on it may be used to magnify the optic nerve, or imaging technologies (such as OCT) can provide detailed cross-sectional images of the optic nerve.
  • Perimetry (Visual Field Test): This test maps the visual field of each eye, identifying areas of vision loss. Open angle glaucoma typically affects peripheral vision first, so this test is crucial for diagnosis and monitoring.
  • Gonioscopy: Though more critical in diagnosing angle closure glaucoma, gonioscopy can also be performed in open angle glaucoma cases to examine the drainage angle and ensure it’s open, as well as to rule out any features that might suggest angle closure risk.
  • Pachymetry: Measuring corneal thickness can help in assessing glaucoma risk since thinner corneas are associated with a higher risk of glaucoma damage.

Diagnostic Approaches for Closed Angle Glaucoma

For closed angle glaucoma, especially in acute cases, the diagnosis often requires immediate assessment due to the rapid onset of symptoms and the potential for rapid vision loss:

  • Tonometry: Measuring IOP is also crucial in suspected cases of closed angle glaucoma. In acute angle closure, IOP can be significantly elevated, often much higher than in open angle glaucoma.
  • Gonioscopy: This test is essential for diagnosing closed angle glaucoma as it allows the examiner to see whether the angle between the iris and cornea is open or closed, directly affecting the aqueous humour drainage.
  • Anterior Segment Optical Coherence Tomography (AS-OCT): This imaging test can provide high-resolution images of the anterior segment, helping to visualise the angle and assess for blockages or anatomical risks for angle closure.
  • Biomicroscopy: Using a slit lamp, the eye doctor can examine the structures of the front of the eye, looking for signs of iris bombe, peripheral anterior synechiae, or other features indicative of angle closure.
  • Ultrasound Biomicroscopy (UBM): UBM can be used in certain cases to get detailed images of the anterior eye segment, especially useful in eyes where the cornea is too cloudy for a clear view with other methods.

Importance of Early Diagnosis

The goal of diagnosing both open angle and closed angle glaucoma is to identify the condition as early as possible to initiate treatment and prevent or slow down the progression of vision loss. While open angle glaucoma requires ongoing monitoring due to its gradual nature, diagnosing closed angle glaucoma, particularly in its acute form, is more urgent to alleviate the sudden spike in IOP and prevent permanent optic nerve damage.

Regular eye examinations are crucial for early detection of glaucoma, especially for individuals at higher risk. These exams allow for timely intervention, which can significantly alter the course of the disease and its impact on the patient’s quality of life. For anyone diagnosed with glaucoma, understanding the nature of their condition, the importance of adherence to treatment, and regular follow-up care are key components in managing their eye health effectively.

Management Strategies

open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma differences melbourne

The management of glaucoma, whether open angle or closed angle, is aimed at preserving vision and preventing further damage to the optic nerve. Treatment strategies differ between these two main types of glaucoma due to their distinct pathophysiological mechanisms and progression rates. Here’s a look into the management approaches for both open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma.

Management of Open Angle Glaucoma

The primary goal in managing open angle glaucoma is to lower intraocular pressure (IOP), which is the only modifiable risk factor known to affect the course of the disease. Treatment options include:

  • Medications: The first line of treatment usually involves topical eye drops that reduce IOP either by decreasing the production of aqueous humour or by improving its outflow. Multiple classes of medications may be used, including prostaglandin analogs, beta-blockers, alpha agonists, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. In some cases, oral medications may also be prescribed.
  • Laser Therapy: Selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) is often used when medications are not sufficient or as an initial treatment option. SLT helps to open the trabecular meshwork to improve fluid drainage.
  • Surgical Options: If eye drops and laser therapy do not adequately control the IOP, or if the patient cannot tolerate medications, surgical procedures like trabeculectomy or the implantation of a glaucoma drainage device may be considered. Minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIGS) have also become increasingly popular due to their safety profile and effectiveness in reducing IOP with less risk than traditional glaucoma surgery.

Management of Closed Angle Glaucoma

The management of closed angle glaucoma focuses on relieving the immediate pressure in acute cases and preventing angle closure in the eyes at risk. Treatment strategies include:

  • Immediate Management for Acute Attacks: Acute angle closure glaucoma is a medical emergency that requires rapid reduction of IOP to prevent optic nerve damage. Initial treatment often includes a combination of oral and intravenous medications to quickly lower the eye pressure. Laser peripheral iridotomy (LPI) is then performed to create a small hole in the iris, allowing aqueous humour to flow directly from the posterior chamber to the anterior chamber, bypassing the blockage. This procedure can also be done prophylactically in the fellow eye, which is at high risk for acute angle closure.
  • Laser Peripheral Iridotomy (LPI): For individuals diagnosed with narrow angles or chronic angle closure glaucoma, LPI may be recommended to prevent an acute angle closure attack by creating a permanent opening in the iris.
  • Lens Extraction: In cases where the lens is contributing to the narrow angle, cataract surgery to remove and replace the lens with a thinner intraocular lens may be performed. This can help deepen the anterior chamber and open the angle.

Ongoing Management and Monitoring

For both open angle and closed angle glaucoma, ongoing monitoring is essential to ensure that the treatment is effectively controlling the IOP and that the optic nerve is not sustaining further damage. This typically involves regular visits to the ophthalmologist for IOP measurements, optic nerve assessments, and visual field tests to monitor for any changes in vision.

Patients play a crucial role in the management of their glaucoma by adhering to their treatment regimen, attending regular follow-up appointments, and communicating any changes in their vision to their healthcare provider promptly. Lifestyle modifications, such as maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, and avoiding activities that significantly increase eye pressure, can also support the management of glaucoma.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Addressing frequently asked questions (FAQs) about glaucoma can help demystify this complex group of eye diseases and empower patients with the knowledge they need to manage their condition effectively. Here are some common questions and answers related to glaucoma, covering both open angle and closed angle glaucoma:

1. Can Glaucoma Be Cured?

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. Treatment focuses on managing the condition to prevent further progression of vision loss by lowering intraocular pressure (IOP). With early detection and proper treatment, most people with glaucoma can maintain their vision.

2. Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

Yes, glaucoma can be hereditary. Individuals with a family history of glaucoma have a higher risk of developing the condition. Genetic factors play a role in many types of glaucoma, including primary open angle glaucoma and primary angle closure glaucoma.

3. How Often Should I Get Tested for Glaucoma?

The frequency of glaucoma testing depends on your age, risk factors, and current eye health. Generally, adults should have a comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist every 1 to 2 years after the age of 40. Those at higher risk may need more frequent exams.

4. Can Lifestyle Changes Affect Glaucoma?

While lifestyle changes cannot cure glaucoma, they can support overall eye health and, in some cases, help manage IOP. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and controlling blood pressure are beneficial. However, it’s essential to consult with your eye care provider about the best practices for your specific situation.

5. What Happens if Glaucoma Is Left Untreated?

Untreated glaucoma can lead to progressive vision loss, typically starting with peripheral vision. If the condition continues to worsen, it can result in tunnel vision and eventually blindness. Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent severe outcomes.

6. Can Glaucoma Be Treated With Laser Surgery Alone?

Laser surgery, such as selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) for open angle glaucoma or laser peripheral iridotomy (LPI) for angle closure glaucoma, can be effective in lowering IOP. However, not all cases can be managed with laser treatment alone. Some patients may require medications or more invasive surgery to control their glaucoma.

7. Are Glaucoma Medications for Life?

In many cases, glaucoma requires lifelong treatment to manage IOP and prevent vision loss. The specific treatment plan, including the need for medications, can vary based on how well the glaucoma is controlled and may change over time.

8. Can Glaucoma Affect Both Eyes?

Yes, glaucoma often affects both eyes, though it may start in one eye or be more advanced in one eye than the other. Treatment typically involves both eyes, even if symptoms or damage are initially more pronounced in one eye.

9. What Are the Side Effects of Glaucoma Medications?

Side effects depend on the type of medication used. Common side effects may include eye redness, irritation, changes in eye colour, or eyelash growth. Systemic side effects are less common but can occur, especially with oral medications. Your eye care provider will discuss potential side effects and monitor you for any adverse reactions.

10. Can I Drive if I Have Glaucoma?

Many people with glaucoma can continue driving, especially if the disease is diagnosed early and managed effectively. However, advanced glaucoma with significant peripheral vision loss may impair the ability to drive safely. It’s important to undergo regular visual field testing and consult with your eye care provider about your fitness to drive.


Glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma represent two major forms of a condition that can lead to irreversible vision loss. Understanding the differences between these conditions, their risk factors, and available treatments is crucial for early detection and management. By maintaining regular eye exams and following prescribed treatment plans, individuals can significantly reduce their risk of glaucoma-related vision impairment, preserving their quality of life.

Contact us at (03) 9070 3580 now to schedule your comprehensive eye exam and discuss any concerns you may have about glaucoma or other eye conditions. With our dedicated team of eye care professionals, we are here to help you maintain healthy vision for life. Don’t wait until it’s too late – take charge of your eye health today.

Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.


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