What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S. It is not preventable and the exact cause is unknown. If glaucoma is detected at an early stage and treated promptly, glaucoma can usually be controlled with little or no further vision loss.
Glaucoma is an underestimated disease. Many people don’t realize the severity of glaucoma, or who is affected. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness and it is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.
Glaucoma is a condition in which the passages that allow fluid in the eye to drain become clogged or blocked. The amount of fluid in the eye builds up and causes elevated pressure inside the eye. The elevated pressure damages the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain and is the main carrier of vision information to the brain. Damage to the optic nerve results in permanent vision loss.
Glaucoma is a difficult disease because there may not symptoms to warn you that you may have it. The most common type of glaucoma, Primary Open Angle Glaucoma, has virtually no symptoms and no pain. At times vision loss begins with your peripheral, or side vision, but you may compensate for this involuntarily by turning your head to the side and not notice anything until substantial vision is lost. Half the people who have glaucoma may not know they have it.
The only way to protect your vision is to get tested so that treatment can begin immediately. Regular eye exams are an important means of diagnosing glaucoma in its early stages and will include:
- Tonometry – a simple and painless measurement of the pressure in the eye
- Opthalmolscopy – an examination of the back of the eye to observe the health of the optic nerve
- Visual Field Test – a check for the development of abnormal blind spots
It is estimated that nearly 4 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those who have it know it. This number is only expected to rise with the aging of our population. While everyone is at risk for glaucoma, there are those at higher risk for developing glaucoma:
- Positive family history of glaucoma within immediate family
- Aging (Individuals over 40 years of age)
- Gender (Male)
- Race (African Americans)
- High eye pressure
- Pain or redness in the eyes
- High Myopia (Near sightedness)
- Sleep-Disordered breathing
- History of steroid use
- Eye Injury or surgery
People at high risk for glaucoma should get a complete eye exam, including eye dilation, every one or two years. Everyone over 40 should have a comprehensive eye examination every two years, regardless of risk factors.
There is no cure for glaucoma and vision lost cannot be regained. Early detection, prompt treatment and regular examinations are essential to preserving your vision. Medications, and in some cases surgery, make it possible to slow or stop further vision loss, enabling you to continue living in much the same way as you have always lived. Glaucoma is a chronic disease and must be continuously monitored.