Glaucoma FAQs

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, causing permanent vision loss. Most commonly, the damage occurs when your eye's internal fluid pressure rises too high. The increased pressure is usually due to inadequate drainage of fluid normally produced in your eyes. However, some people can experience optic nerve damage even if their eye pressure is normal. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S.

What causes glaucoma?

The exact cause of glaucoma is not known. For some reason, the passages that normally allow fluid within your eye to drain become clogged or blocked. Fluid within your eye then builds up and increases pressure on the optic nerve. The nerve fibers and blood vessels in the optic nerve are easily damaged by this pressure, resulting in vision loss.

An injury, infection or tumor in or around the eye can also cause the pressure to rise.

People who have glaucoma with normal eye pressure likely have poor blood flow to the optic nerve.

Who gets glaucoma?

Glaucoma most frequently occurs in individuals over the age of 40. In some families, the disease is hereditary.

It is estimated that over 2 million Americans have glaucoma, and this number is expected to rise as the U.S. population ages.

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.

People who are nearsighted or who have diabetes also have a greater tendency to develop glaucoma.

If you are over 35, regular optometric examinations are particularly important as a preventive measure.

How is glaucoma harmful to vision?

The optic nerve, at the back of the eye, carries visual information to the brain. As the optic nerve fibers are damaged, the amount and quality of information sent to the brain decreases and a loss of vision occurs.

Will I go blind from glaucoma?

If diagnosed at an early stage, glaucoma can often be controlled with little or no further vision loss. If left untreated, first peripheral vision and then central vision will be affected, and blindness may result.

How can I tell if I have glaucoma?

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 that you have glaucoma may occur after you've already lost some vision.

Acute-angle closure glaucoma results from a sudden blockage of drainage channels in your eye, causing a rapid buildup of pressure. In this form of the disease you will have blurred vision, the appearance of halos or colored rings around lights, and pain and redness in the eye.

How is glaucoma detected?

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 check the health of the optic nerve and measure your field of vision.

How is glaucoma treated?

Glaucoma is usually effectively treated with prescription eye drops and medicines that must be taken regularly. Some cases require laser therapy or surgery. The goal of the treatment is to prevent vision loss by lowering the fluid pressure in the eye.

Will my vision be restored after treatment?

Unfortunately, any vision lost as a result of glaucoma usually cannot be restored. This is why regular preventive eye examinations are so important. Low-vision rehabilitation services, which include the use of specialized optical devices and training, may benefit people with severe vision loss from glaucoma.

Can glaucoma be prevented?

No, but early detection and treatment can control glaucoma and reduce the chances of vision loss.

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