Glaucoma has been nicknamed the “silent blinder” because vision loss normally occurs gradually over a long period of time, and there are often no symptoms and very rarely pain associated with this disease. Detection is only possible through a thorough dilated eye examination.
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases which cause damage to the optic nerve that carries images from the eye to the brain. Once damage has occurred the loss of visual field can never be recovered. However, if the condition is detected early enough, it is possible to arrest the development or slow its progression with medical and surgical means.
Facts About Glaucoma
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts worldwide
- It is the first leading cause of blindness among African Americans
- Glaucoma affects 1 in 200 people aged 50 and younger and 1 in 10 over the age of 80
Types of Glaucoma
Primary Open Angle Glaucoma
This is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting about three million Americans. It occurs when the eye’s drainage canals become gradually clogged or blocked. The content of the eye is mainly fluid (aqueous humor) created and refreshed by the eye’s tissues. This normally drains out into the bloodstream through small blood vessels around the iris. If this drainage function is blocked, the inner eye pressure (intraocular pressure or IOP) rises and begins to affect the optic nerve. If Open Angle Glaucoma is not diagnosed and treated, it can cause a gradual loss of vision. This type of glaucoma develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. Primary Open Angle Glaucoma usually responds well to medication, especially if caught early and treated.
Angle Closure Glaucoma
In this more rare type of glaucoma, internal eye pressure usually rises very quickly. This happens when the drainage canals get blocked or pinched, due to a change in the eye’s physical structure. Surgery is performed to unblock the drainage canals so the eye’s fluid can drain properly. Symptoms of Angle Closure Glaucoma may include headaches, eye pain, nausea, rainbows around lights at night and very blurred vision.
While there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve eyesight. Depending upon the type of glaucoma, treatment may include prescription eye drops or surgery to lower the pressure in the eye and prevent further damage to the optic nerve.
A number of medications are currently in use to treat glaucoma by reducing elevated intraocular pressure and prevent damage to the optic nerve. In certain cases, glaucoma surgery may also be an option. The type of surgery your doctor recommends will depend on the type and severity of your glaucoma and the general health of your eye. Surgery can help lower pressure when medication is not sufficient; however, it cannot reverse vision loss, so early detection is essential. If laser surgery does not successfully lower eye pressure, or the pressure begins to rise again, your doctor may recommend filtering microsurgery.
Request an eye exam today to stay proactive in your eye health.