What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause permanent damage to the optic nerve – which is the connection between the eye and the brain. This damage causes irreversible vision loss and eventually blindness if left untreated. In the early stages of glaucoma, there are often no symptoms – the vision loss occurs so gradually that changes go unnoticed until significant vision loss has already occurred, and the disease is at an advanced stage.
Types of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. The exact cause of the damage is unknown, but popular theories include elevated intraocular pressure and inadequate blood supply to the nerve.
The two major categories of glaucoma are open angle and narrow-angle. The ‘angle’ refers to the area inside the eye where the fluid is drained. There is a constant flow of fluid being made and drained inside the eye. If too much fluid is made, or the drainage angle is too narrow for the fluid to escape, the intraocular pressure will increase and damage the optic nerve. Open-angle is the most common form of glaucoma.
Secondary forms of glaucoma also exist and may be caused by previous injuries to the eye, certain medical conditions or medications, and congenital abnormalities.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
While anyone can develop glaucoma, studies have shown that there are certain groups of people who are more susceptible.
- Age – Anyone over 60 is most at risk, with risk increasing slightly with every year of age
- Race – Glaucoma is about three times more likely to affect African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos than non-Hispanic Caucasians
- Systemic Medical Conditions – Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease can increase your risk
- Corticosteroid Use – Long-term use of steroid drops/creams and inhaled or systemic steroids (prednisone, hydrocortisone, etc)
- Family History of Glaucoma
- Previous Eye Injuries
- Severe Nearsightedness
Diagnosis and Management of Glaucoma
The best way to prevent significant vision loss from glaucoma is to get yearly routine eye exams from your optometrist. The earlier glaucoma is detected, the easier it is to treat and the less likely it is to cause significant vision loss.
During a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor will perform brief screening tests and review your family history and risk factors to determine you have any early signs of glaucoma, and if more in-depth testing should be performed.
If it is determined that you have glaucoma, the type of treatment initiated by your optometrist will be dependent on the severity and type of glaucoma.
If you have any questions about glaucoma or would like a comprehensive eye exam to screen for glaucoma, please schedule an appointment today!