Glaucoma is an eye disease that typically does not have symptoms early on, but may cause gradual, permanent loss of vision over time, if left untreated. It can affect people of all ages, but the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and elderly population. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide according to the World Health Organization. More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and this number is projected to increase dramatically by 2030. Risk factors for glaucoma include family history/genetics, African, Asian, or Hispanic descent, older age, diabetes, and hypertension.
Glaucomatous vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve over time. Vision loss begins with loss of peripheral or side vision, and since one eye’s visual field compensates for the other eye, a person may not notice symptoms of vision loss or glaucoma until significant vision is lost and there is already severe damage to the optic nerve. A person can develop glaucoma even with a normal eye pressure. Therefore, it is important to have a comprehensive dilated eye examination yearly with an optometrist or ophthalmologist so nerve damage can be detected before vision loss has occurred.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but if it is caught early enough, medications, laser, or surgery can help prevent optic nerve damage and vision loss. Early detection is key to slowing the progression of the disease.