Glaucoma and cataracts are both eye conditions that can impact the eye’s health and result in vision loss. Although they can share similar symptoms and risk factors, such as occurring in older age, both conditions are usually unrelated.

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This article provides an overview of both eye conditions and discusses the possible relationship between glaucoma and cataracts.

Glaucoma is an eye condition where fluid pressure rises within the eye. This increase in pressure can damage the optic nerve and result in vision loss. It is generally more common after the age of 60. Evidence suggests that roughly 3 million people in America have glaucoma.

Cataracts are more common in people over 40 years old. This eye problem involves clouding of the eye, which makes it difficult for light to pass through. This impacts sight and can lead to vision loss. Evidence notes that around 24.4 million people in America have cataracts.

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While both conditions affect vision, anecdotal evidence suggests glaucoma is typically the most severe.

Glaucoma involves eye pressure and affects the optic nerve, while cataracts occur due to the breakdown of proteins in the lens.

Cataracts are typically painless and occur gradually, whereas glaucoma can develop quickly with painful symptoms.

Although vision loss is possible with cataracts, especially if left untreated, it is more likely to happen with glaucoma. Surgery can help to reverse vision loss with cataracts, but glaucoma surgery cannot restore lost vision.

Cataracts are not usually urgent, but early prevention and treatment are essential for managing glaucoma.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, cataracts and glaucoma are more common in older adults and can be a natural part of aging. However, besides sharing some risk factors and both being eye conditions, doctors do not typically associate the two.

Although having one condition does not directly lead to the development of the other, having one condition can increase the risk of developing the other.

Although glaucoma does not increase the risk of cataracts, Glaucoma UK indicates that some treatments for glaucoma may worsen cataracts and speed up their formation. Similarly, cataracts can increase the risk of elevated eye pressure, which may lead to glaucoma.

While both conditions are more likely in older age, certain medical conditions or medications can increase the risk of developing both.

Risk factors for cataracts

Most cataracts occur due to age-related changes in the eye’s lens that result in it becoming cloudy. However, other factors that can contribute to cataract development include:

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Risk factors for glaucoma

In addition to age, other factors that may increase the risk of glaucoma include:

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At present, surgery is the only treatment option to remove cataracts. However, a person may not always require surgery.

A doctor may recommend surgery if cataracts begin to interfere with everyday tasks, such as reading, driving, or watching television. Surgery involves replacing the clouded lens with a new artificial lens.

Treatment options for glaucoma aim to improve fluid flow from the eye and reduce fluid production. These can include:

  • Medications: A doctor may prescribe eye drops to help lower the pressure in the eye and prevent damage to the optic nerve.
  • Laser treatment: An eye doctor uses lasers to help fluid drain out of the eye to lower eye pressure.
  • Surgery: If medications and lasers are ineffective, a doctor may suggest laser eye surgery. Several different options can help to drain fluid out of the eye.

Sometimes, if a person has both glaucoma and cataracts, a doctor can use surgery to treat both conditions simultaneously.

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Previously, a person would receive different treatments for cataracts and glaucoma. Cataract surgery is a typically safe procedure, while older methods for treating glaucoma were slightly riskier.

However, combination surgeries are available to treat both conditions at the same time. While performing cataract surgery, a surgeon may perform a trabeculectomy (pronounced: tra-BECK-yoo-LECK-toh-mee) or shunt procedure to relieve pressure in the eye.

According to the National Eye Institute, a trabeculectomy involves creating a tiny opening in the white of the eye to help drain excess fluid.

Similarly, during a shunt procedure, a surgeon places a tiny plastic tube under the membrane that covers the white of the eye to drain fluid and lower eye pressure.

Surgeons can also use newer techniques that are less invasive. Although these procedures also involve removing the cataract and draining fluid from the eye, they may not lower eye pressure enough. This means a person may still require some glaucoma medications.

Some common questions about cataracts and glaucoma may include the following:

Can glaucoma and cataracts co-occur?

Yes, a person can have both cataracts and glaucoma at the same time. They are two of the most common eye problems and become more widespread as people get older. As such, many people with cataracts also have glaucoma.

Can cataracts be removed if you have glaucoma?

If a person has cataracts and glaucoma, they can receive combination surgery. Different procedures are available depending on the severity of the conditions and may include:

  • cataract surgery and trabeculectomy
  • cataract surgery and glaucoma shunt procedures
  • minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIGS)

Cataracts and glaucoma are both eye conditions that become more common in older age. While the conditions do not typically cause the other, they share similar risk factors, and having one may also increase the risk of developing the other.

Treatment for both conditions can involve surgery. In some cases, a doctor can perform combination surgery and treat both conditions at the same time.