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Risk Factors for Glaucoma

by Mary Calvagna, MS

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop glaucoma with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing glaucoma. If you have any risk factors for glaucoma, ask your health care provider if there is anything you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for glaucoma include:

Family History of Glaucoma

If someone in your family has glaucoma, your risk of getting glaucoma is increased. Glaucoma may be inherited. However, if someone in your family has glaucoma, you will not necessarily develop the disease.


In black people, open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness, and is six to eight times more common than in Caucasians. In addition, the risk among black people increases after age 40. Eskimos and Asians are more like to develop closed-angle glaucoma than other races.


According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the risk of getting glaucoma increases after age 50. For black people the risk generally increases after age 40. However, glaucoma can occur in anyone at any age.

High Intraocular Pressure

People with an elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) have an increased risk of developing glaucoma. "Elevated" is usually defined as greater than 21 mm mercury (Hg). ). However, even people with "normal" pressures can develop glaucoma.

Thin Cornea

A recent large clinical trial discovered that patients with thinner corneas (the clear structure at the front of the eye) are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. They also found that African-Americans have thinner corneas than Caucasians.

High Blood Pressure

Some studies have shown that having high blood pressure increases the risk of glaucoma. However, this is still controversial.


Some studies have shown that diabetes is associated with an increased risk of developing glaucoma. However, this is still controversial.

Refractive Errors

If you are nearsighted (myopic), you are at an increased risk of developing open-angle glaucoma. If you are farsighted (hyperopic), you are at an increased risk of developing closed-angle glaucoma.

Regular, Long-term Steroid/Cortisone Use

Long-term use of all forms of corticosteroids increases risk.

Previous Eye Injury or Eye Surgery

An eye injury may damage structures in the eye leading to impaired fluid drainage. Complications of eye surgery may also sometimes lead to glaucoma.

History of Severe Anemia or Shock

A history of severe anemia or shock has been identified as possible risk factors associated with glaucoma.

Cardiovascular Disease or Insufficient Blood Flow

People with cardiovascular disease or conditions resulting in decreased blood flow to the eye may be at an increased risk of developing glaucoma.


Obesity has been identified as a possible risk factor associated with glaucoma.


American Academy of Ophthalmology

Merck Manual Online

National Eye Institute

Last reviewed September 2003 by Marc Ellman, MD

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