Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world, yet one that is not that well understood by patients. Glaucoma is also a condition that doctors are still learning more about – how to diagnose it earlier, and how to treat it more effectively. This article will review what glaucoma is, how it is diagnosed, and treatment options.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is when the optic nerve in the back of the eye suffers damage from an increase of pressure inside the eye. In some cases, the pressure may not very high, but it may be high enough to decrease blood flow to the optic nerve. Either way, the optic nerve is damaged and vision loss is the result. The condition can run in families and usually occurs after 40 years of age. The incidence of glaucoma is highest in the African American population.
How is glaucoma detected?
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist checks for glaucoma by measuring the fluid pressures inside the eye, observing the optic nerve, and by testing how the optic nerve functions. These three areas should be part of every comprehensive examination. In most cases of glaucoma, the pressures inside the eye are elevated beyond the “normal” range. This is not a pressure patients can feel, except for very rare cases of glaucoma. Since patients don’t know their pressure is elevated, the could be experiencing irreversible damage to the optic nerve and not know it. Glaucoma is often called the “the thief in the night” since the patient experiences no symptoms even though the nerve is undergoing damage. Some studies have shown that one-third of patients with glaucoma don’t know they have it. One more reason to see your eye doctor.
How is glaucoma treated?
For most cases of glaucoma, treatment consists of daily eye drops to reduce the pressure inside the eye. There are several eye drops on the market that are used to treat glaucoma and your eye doctor will determine the best option for you. In some cases, multiple medicated eye drops are indicated.
Another treatment options is surgical. A laser can be used to increase flow of fluid in the eye, thereby reducing the pressure. Some patients are better candidates for this procedure than others, and your eye doctor will consider this option when treating glaucoma.
There are other forms of glaucoma that are not covered in this article, but the take home message is that glaucoma is a serious sight-threatening condition that offers no symptoms until very late, so it’s important to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist as directed.