Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain. The most common type of glaucoma (affecting 2.5 million Americans) occurs when the drainage canals for the inside of the eyes become clogged inside the eyes. Pressure slowly builds and leads to damage to the never. The higher the pressure, the greater risk of developing glaucoma. It's a gradual process that may take years. But left untreated, a person may experience some vision loss or even blindness in one or both eyes.
Risk factors: Age is a factor, and people over 60 are particularly vulnerable. The occurrence of glaucoma is tree times greater with blacks than with whites. People who have had eye injuries are more likely to develop it, too, and if a close family member has it, you are at increased risk.
Symptoms: Often, there aren't any symptoms in glaucoma until it's too late. At first, vision stays normal and there's no pain. As the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma may notice his or her side (peripheral) vision failing. Then, over time, straight-ahead vision may decrease until no vision remains.
How is glaucoma detected? Glaucoma is detected by examination of the optic nerve head, evaluation of the nerve fibers in the back of the eye, and measuring sensitivity of the peripheral vision. High pressure is the greatest risk factor for the disease, so accurate measurement of eye pressure is critical. Technologies such as ultrasound biomicroscopy enable us to detect conditions that lead to glaucoma and them even before glaucoma damage sets in.
Will I go blind from my glaucoma? Bilateral blindness from glaucoma is uncommon and preventable with very rare exception - if the pressure in they eye is brought to low enough levels. There is no cure for glaucoma. Whatever damage is done is irreversible. But what we strive to do is stabilize the disease so that patients can keep what vision they have for the rest of their lives.
How can glaucoma be treated? (1) Putting medication into the eyes with an eye dropper several times a day. (2) Laser treatment that helps drain fluid from the eye. (3) Glaucoma filtration surgery where a new opening is made for fluid to leave the eye, or use of surgical drainage devices.
Along with these treatments, vitamins may be used to help protect the optic nerve, although there is no definitive studies that confirm this.
Annual eye checkups are important for preventing glaucoma, and the doctor must check the optic nerve head in the back of the eye as well as the eye pressure. Reading an eye chart reasonably well does not mean a person doesn't have glaucoma. If glaucoma is caught early, a doctor may be able to stabilize the progression of the disease and prevent blindness from glaucoma.