What is Glaucoma?
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.
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 permanently 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.
What are the symptoms of Glaucoma?
Open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common type of glaucoma, develops gradually and painlessly, without symptoms. As the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma will not notice any symptoms until late in the disease when vision gradually fails with: loss of peripheral vision; blurred vision and difficulty focusing on objects.
How is Glaucoma diagnosed?
Having an annual comprehensive eye examination which includes not only measurement of the intraocular pressure but also dilation of the pupil to allow for close examination of the appearance of the optic nerve is the best way to ensure that you do not have glaucoma.
Who’s at risk?
Certain groups of people are at an increased risk for developing glaucoma:
- People over the age of 45
- People who have a family history of glaucoma
- African and Hispanic Americans
- People who have diabetes, hypertension, myopia (nearsightedness), poor ocular circulation, a previous eye injury,
- People who have used steroid/cortisone medications on a long-term basis
- People with elevated intraocular pressure
It is especially important for individuals who are at high risk to visit an eye doctor regularly for dilated eye exams.