Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. It is a disease that typically affects older people, but it can occur at any age. It occurs when the pressure inside the eye rises high enough to damage the optic nerve.
The eye has about 1 million tiny nerve fibers which run from the back of the eye to the brain. These nerve fibers allow us to see. As a disease, glaucoma causes the destruction of these fibers. It was once thought that the loss of these fibers was due strictly to high pressure in the eye, but the medical field now knows that even patients with normal eye pressure can have glaucoma and potentially lose the nerve fibers that connect the brain and the eye.
The reason that eye pressure is high in many glaucoma patients is that the drainage system in the eye is not working properly. The fluid in the eye, called aqueous humor, does not flow out of the eye as quickly as it should. The drainage system lies in a part of the eye called the angle, which is between the cornea and the iris of the eye. This angle can be open or closed.
There are several kinds of glaucoma. The most common form of glaucoma is called chronic open-angle glaucoma or primary open-angle glaucoma. The drainage angle is open in these patients, but the eye fluid does not drain as quickly as it should. Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the drainage angle closes, and almost no eye fluid can escape.
Unfortunately, there are no symptoms of glaucoma until advanced, irreversible damage has occurred. Therefore, routine testing by an ophthalmologist or optometrist can detect glaucoma before symptoms appear. If treatments are started early enough, vision loss can be prevented. The main aim of glaucoma treatment is to lower the eye pressure, either with eye drops, laser, or surgery.
The symptoms of glaucoma are gradual and can vary depending on the type and stage of progression.
For Open Angle Glaucoma many patients will begin to notice:
For Narrow Angle Glaucoma, the effects are more sudden and can appear in one or both eyes.
If left untreated, glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness so it is important to establish care with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to manage your care and track any progression.
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