Glaucoma is a set of eye diseases affecting the optic nerve, which is a group of about a million individual nerve fibers that collectively create a communication gateway between the eye and the brain. The optic nerve carries information collected by the retina to your brain for interpretation, creating what we know as vision.
Most types of glaucoma involve an unhealthy pressure level within the eye. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, creating vision distortions and, in severe untreated cases, total vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
Early in its course, glaucoma often produces no symptoms, making its damage stealthy and irreversible. However, caught early, glaucoma can be successfully managed so that vision is protected. Paramount to managing glaucoma is diagnosis – so make sure to see your eye doctor for routine comprehensive vision exams. Once a diagnosis has been made, your eye doctor can begin treatment before glaucoma has a chance to damage your optic nerve, slowing or halting disease progression and vision loss.
Types of Glaucoma
There are a few different types of glaucoma, but most involve the inadequate drainage of corneal fluid, called the aqueous humor, from the eye. The aqueous humor is responsible for maintaining appropriate moisture and pressure levels within the eye. When a drainage angle, which sits where the iris meets the cornea, is narrowed, clogged or blocked, it can increase pressure within the eye, placing force on the optic nerve that can cause permanent damage.
Primary Open-angle Glaucoma – POAG is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting about 80% of glaucoma patients. As people age, the risk of developing POAG increases, as drainage angles become less efficient. Early on, POAG often presents few or no symptoms – changes in vision are typically so minor that the brain simply adapts to them, even as damage progresses.
Closed-angle Glaucoma – In this less common form, the drainage angle becomes blocked or closes entirely due to a narrowing of the space between the iris and the cornea. Closed-angle glaucoma can progress gradually or occur suddenly, making it a medical emergency demanding immediate treatment to prevent rapid vision loss – sometimes in as little as
Secondary Glaucoma – This form occurs due to external causes, including physical injury to the eye, eye abnormalities, medical conditions
and certain medications.
Normal-tension Glaucoma – This less common form occurs when the optic nerve becomes damaged even though pressure within the eye tests inside a normal range. Though the cause isn’t fully understood, this form may be due to an unusually sensitive optic nerve, which may be prone to damage despite normal conditions.
Who is at Risk for Glaucoma?
Glaucoma can affect nearly anyone – rarely, congenital glaucoma can be found in infants – but for the majority of people, age is a major risk factor. For Caucasians, the chance of developing glaucoma increases after age 60. African Americans tend to see risk increase after age 40, and Hispanics after age 50. People with a family history of glaucoma, thinner corneas, optic nerve sensitivity and chronic eye inflammation may be at increased risk, as well as those taking long courses of medications that increase eye pressure, such as corticosteroids. Whatever one’s age or race, however, no one can assume they are free of risk for glaucoma. For all adults, routine monitoring by your eye doctor is key.
Successful Management of Glaucoma
The good news is that for most people, glaucoma can be successfully managed with prescription eye drops and/or oral medication. In some more serious cases, laser surgery can help normalize drainage channels and provide relief and vision protection. Regular comprehensive exams by your Lake Eye ophthalmologist or optometrist can easily catch glaucoma long before it produces symptoms, so steps can be taken to halt disease progression and damage.
When to Have an Eye Exam
Again, maintaining healthy vision requires routine visits to your Lake Eye doctor so glaucoma and other sneaky eye diseases can be addressed before they have a chance to inflict severe and permanent damage. Make appointments to see your ophthalmologist or optometrist as follows:
Ages 20-29: Caucasians should see an eye doctor at least once during their 20s. Because of the increased risk for glaucoma, people of African descent should have at least two visits.
Ages 30-39: Caucasians should visit an eye doctor at least twice during their 30s. People of African descent, and those with a close family history of glaucoma, should have an eye exam every 2-4 years.
Ages 40-64: Everyone should have an eye exam every 2-4 years.
Ages 65 and older: Everyone should have an eye exam every 1-2 years.
Routine exams can make treatment for eye diseases easy and effective, and help protect your vision for life. If it’s been a while since you had a complete eye exam, call Lake Eye today. Your eyes have served you nobly – they deserve some tender loving care.