Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Although anyone can get glaucoma, the risk is higher for those over age 60, those who have a family history of the condition and African Americans. Older Hispanics/Latinos are also at elevated risk, the highest prevalence being among those of Mexican descent.

Other risk factors include:
  • diabetes
  • nearsightedness, called myopia
  • regular, long-term corticosteroid use, particularly if in the form of eyedrops
  • previous eye injury
Another risk factor for glaucoma is high pressure within the eye. Pressure in the eye is known as intraocular pressure. However, it is a common misconception that having high intraocular pressure means you have glaucoma. In fact, you can have high intraocular pressure, known as ocular hypertension, and not have glaucoma. Whether you develop glaucoma depends on how much pressure your optic nerve -- the bundle of 1.2 million nerve fibers that transmits images from the eye to the brain -- can take without being damaged.

Your ophthalmologist considers many kinds of information to determine your risk for developing the disease.

The most important risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Elevated eye pressure
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • African or Hispanic ancestry
  • Farsightedness or nearsightedness
  • Past eye injuries
  • Thinner central corneal thickness
  • Systemic health problems, including diabetes, migraine headaches and poor circulation
  • Pre-existing thinning of the optic nerve

Your ophthalmologist will weigh all of these factors before deciding whether you need treatment for glaucoma, or whether you should be monitored closely as a potential glaucoma patient. This means your risk of developing glaucoma is higher than normal, and you need to have regular examinations to detect the early signs of damage to the optic nerve.

Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
About 2.2 million Americans age 40 and over have primary open-angle glaucoma, and experts predict that this number could rise by nearly 50% by the end of this decade. Some people are at higher risk of glaucoma, particularly those who are older, have a family history, have elevated Trabecular intraocular pressure, me or are Mexican Americans or African Americans (in fact, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans).
Laura C. Fine, MD
No one is immune to glaucoma(a group of eye diseases that cause vision loss through damage to the optic nerve), but some people are more likely than others to develop the disease. Those who face a higher risk include the following groups:
  • People ages 50 and older. Like other bodily processes that wind down with age, the eye's drainage system also seems to become less efficient as people grow older.
  • People who have high intraocular pressure.
  • People with a family history of glaucoma. The most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, is hereditary. People whose immediate family members have this form of the disease face a far higher risk than the general population.
  • People of African American or Hispanic ancestry. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than in Caucasians. Hispanics also appear to be more prone to the disease than people of European ancestry.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.