What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is usually high pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve and can result in permanent vision loss. Not all 3 criteria (that is, high pressure inside the eye, optic nerve damage, and vision loss) are required to diagnose glaucoma; however, a diagnosis of glaucoma is certain when all 3 criteria are present.

Did You Know? Glaucoma is sometimes called the “Silent Blinder” and is extremely common eye disease.

What Causes High Pressure Inside The Eye?

High pressure inside the eye is caused by an imbalance in the production and drainage of fluid in the eye (aqueous humor). The channels that normally drain the fluid from inside the eye do not function properly or are blocked. More fluid is continually being produced but cannot be drained because of the improperly functioning or blocked drainage channels.  This results in an increased amount of fluid inside the eye, thus raising the pressure.

Another way to think of high pressure inside the eye is to imagine a water balloon. The more water that is put into the balloon, the higher the pressure inside the balloon. The same situation exists with too much fluid inside the eye. The more fluid, the higher the pressure. Also, just like a water balloon can burst if too much water is put into it, the optic nerve in the eye can be damaged by too high of pressure.

Are There Different Types Of Glaucoma?

The 2 main types of glaucoma are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. In angle-closure glaucoma, the normal drainage canals within the eye are physically blocked. Angle-closure glaucoma can be acute (sudden) or chronic (long-lasting). In open-angle glaucoma, the drainage system remains open. Both angle-closure glaucoma and open-angle glaucoma may cause vision damage with or without symptoms. Some types of glaucoma include, among others, congenital glaucoma, childhood glaucoma, normal (or low) tension glaucoma, and secondary glaucoma.

Who Gets Glaucoma?

Anyone can get glaucoma. This disease affects approximately 3 million people in the United States and 14 million people worldwide. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the third leading cause of blindness worldwide.

Glaucoma tends to run in families. If you have several family members with glaucoma, you are at a significantly increased risk of developing glaucoma. Glaucoma is more prevalent as people get older. It is also more common in people with diabetes, uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure), or certain other medical conditions. Your risk also increases if you are severely nearsighted or farsighted or if you have a history of certain eye conditions or eye injuries.

No one knows why certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans, have higher rates of glaucoma that lead to blindness. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and Alaskan natives, occurring 6-8 times more often than in whites, often in the earlier stages of life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Glaucoma?

Although certain types of glaucoma may cause pain, redness, halos, and blurred vision, most people with glaucoma do not experience any symptoms until they have lost a significant amount of vision. This loss of vision is permanent; it cannot be reversed. Because of this, regular eye examinations with an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery) are very important.

How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed?

An ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery) can diagnose glaucoma during an eye examination. Findings consistent with glaucoma are high pressure inside the eye, optic nerve damage, and/or vision loss.

What Can I Expect During An Eye Examination For Glaucoma?

An ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery) initially checks your central vision using an eye chart. The front of your eyes are examined using a special microscope called a slit lamp.

The pressure inside your eyes is checked using an instrument called a tonometer. Your optic nerves are examined for any damage; this may require dilation of the pupils to ensure an adequate examination of the optic nerves.

Your peripheral vision may be checked, typically by using an automated visual field machine. The drainage channels in your eyes may be examined using a technique called gonioscopy, which involves the use of a special contact lens.

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

To treat glaucoma, an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery) prescribes eyedrops that contain medicine that helps to lower the pressure inside the eye, thereby reducing the risk for future optic nerve damage and preventing further vision loss (see How to Instill Your Eyedrops). Sometimes, if eyedrops alone do not lower the pressure enough, laser procedures or surgery performed by an ophthalmologist are necessary to lower the pressure inside the eye.

If I Have Glaucoma, How Often Do I Need To Be Checked?

The frequency of your checkups depends on the severity of your glaucoma. If the glaucoma is extremely mild or if you are a low-risk glaucoma suspect, you may only need to be examined on an annual basis. For more severe glaucoma, examinations may need to be done monthly, or possibly even more frequently, until the glaucoma stabilizes. Once the glaucoma is stable, examinations every 3-6 months are usually appropriate.

Contact Our Davies Eye Center

If you would like more information on Glaucoma or would like to schedule an appointment, Call us at (760) 729-7101

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