Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the internal fluid pressure of your eye rises to a point that the optic nerve is damaged.
The pressure that builds up is usually due to inadequate drainage of fluid normally produced in your eyes. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.
The exact cause of glaucoma is not known. For some reason, the passages that normally allow fluid within your eye to drain out become clogged or blocked. This results in fluid building up within your eye and increasing pressure on the optic nerve. The nerve fibers and blood vessels in the optic nerve can easily be damaged by this pressure, resulting in loss of vision.
An injury, infection or tumor in or around the eye can also cause the pressure to rise.
Glaucoma most frequently occurs in individuals over the age of 40, and there is a hereditary tendency for the development of the disease in some families.
It is estimated that over 2 million Americans have glaucoma and this number is expected to rise as more of our population grows older.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease. It occurs more frequently in African Americans than in Caucasians, causes damage at an earlier age and leads to blindness at a much greater rate.
There is also a greater tendency for glaucoma to develop in individuals who are nearsighted or who have diabetes.
For those over 35, regular optometric examinations are particularly important as a preventive eye care measure.
The optic nerve, at the back of the eye, carries visual information to the brain. As the fibers that make up the optic nerve are damaged, the amount and quality of information sent to the brain decreases and a loss of vision occurs.
If diagnosed at an early stage, glaucoma can often be controlled and little or no further vision loss may occur. If left untreated, first peripheral vision and then central vision will be affected and blindness may result.
The signs or symptoms of glaucoma can vary depending on the type.
Primary open angle glaucoma often develops slowly and painlessly, with no early warning signs. It can gradually destroy your vision without you knowing it.
The first indication may occur after some vision has already been lost.
Acute angle closure glaucoma, which results from a sudden blockage of drainage channels in your eye, causes a rapid blind up of pressure accompanied by blurred vision, the appearance of colored rings around lights and pain and redness in the eyes.
A comprehensive optometric examination will include tests for glaucoma. A simple, painless procedure called tonometry measures the internal pressure of your eye. Your optometrist will also look into your eye to observe the health of the optic nerve and measure your field of vision.
Glaucoma is usually effectively treated with prescription eye drops and medicines that must be taken regularly. In some cases, laser therapy or surgery may be required. The goal of the treatment is to prevent loss of vision by lowering the fluid pressure in the eye.
Unfortunately, any vision loss as a result of glaucoma is usually permanent and cannot be restored. This is why regular preventive eye examinations are so important. Low vision rehabilitation services, that include the use of specialized optical devices and training, may benefit individuals with severe vision loss.
No, but early detection and treatment can control glaucoma and reduce the chances of damage to the eye and a loss of sight.