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The second leading cause of blindness in the United States is glaucoma. Unlike most other diseases, the most common form of glaucoma has no obvious symptoms and can permanently damage vision without warning. Once vision is lost to glaucoma, it can never be restored.
Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve degenerates over time. The optic nerve is responsible for transporting the visual stimuli from the eye to the brain where they can be further processed into a visual image. When the nerve deteriorates, the connection between the eye and brain is lost and vision is irreversibly impaired. First the peripheral vision is lost, and if the condition is not detected in a timely manner, the central or reading vision is also permanently affected.
Glaucoma is typically characterized by a buildup of fluid within the eye, causing intraocular pressure to increase (although, there are cases where a person with high pressure shows no signs of optic nerve damage while another can have normal pressure with significant nerve loss). In a healthy eye, fluid containing nutrients to bathe the eye and help the eyeball maintain its shape is continuously drained and replenished, however, in a person with glaucoma, this fluid either does not drain properly or is created in excess, resulting in pressure that, if left untreated, eventually damages the optic nerve. When this occurs, partial or total vision loss may result. Because vision loss is irreversible and painless, early detection and treatment is critical. Regular dilated eye examinations are required for early detection.