Glaucoma is a disease of the eye that can cause vision loss if left untreated. It is one of the most serious eye disorders and approximately 2.25 million Americans 45 years or older have glaucoma. It is estimated that between 84,000 and 116,000 of them have become blind from glaucoma. The incidence of glaucoma increases with age.
Glaucoma is usually caused by increased pressure in the eye, which causes mechanical damage to the optic nerve and also affects the blood flow to the optic nerve. This damage to the optic nerve will cause vision loss. There are two main types of glaucoma, open angle glaucoma (the most common form) and angle closure glaucoma (5% of glaucoma cases).
Initially there are no symptoms in open angle glaucoma. The disease occurs slowly and no one really knows how fast it will progress. Many times patients first appear to the doctor after visual field loss has already occurred and now require constant medical attention to keep from losing the remaining visual field. Angle closure glaucoma is rare but is more noticeable. The pressure in the eye increases rapidly and causes severe eye pain, blurred vision, and headache.
Glaucoma mainly occurs in adults over the age of 40, but glaucoma can affect children also. Risk factors for glaucoma include a family history of the disease, African-American descent, highly myopic (near-sighted) patients, and diabetic patients.
Yearly examinations with your ophthalmologist will be sufficient to check for glaucoma. If you have any risk factors for glaucoma your ophthalmologist will perform a work-up for glaucoma. The work-up includes checking your eye pressure with a tonometer, checking for damage to the optic nerve, and checking for damage to the drainage system in the eye.
Glaucoma is usually treated with medications (eyedrops or tablets). They work by decreasing the eye pressure by either decreasing fluid production in the eye or increasing outflow of fluid from the eye. If medical management is not controlling the eye pressure other treatment options are available. They include laser surgery and intraocular filtration surgery. Your doctor will decide which treatment option is right for you.
Glaucoma is a chronic disease and needs to be regarded as such. It is important to keep all appointments with your doctor and to take medication on time. Once diagnosed with glaucoma, patients will need life long care to keep good vision. It is important to understand that glaucoma can not be cured but it can be controlled.