The 411 on Glaucoma

Eye examWe hear the term glaucoma test when we go to get an eye examination. The test involves a puff of air being blown into each eye, and just the anticipation makes your eyes water and begin to blink. But what is glaucoma anyway? Here is a quick overview about glaucoma:

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a broad term for a group of eye diseases that harm the optic nerve. The optic nerve is located in the back of the eye and has the important task of relaying information from the eye to the brain. Any damage to the optic nerve can result in vision loss. If you have glaucoma, you will lose peripheral vision first. Untreated glaucoma causes gradual vision loss and, in the end, can cause permanent blindness.

What Causes Glaucoma?

When intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye) increases, the optic nerve can be damaged. Sometimes, pressure is increased by extra fluid that builds up in the eye. It can also be caused by fluid that does not drain properly. An eye injury, eye surgery or eye tumor can also be responsible for initiating glaucoma. Even some medications can make you more susceptible to glaucoma. Corticosteroids such as prednisone and cortisone can also cause damage to the optic nerve.

What are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?

Being over the age of 40 puts you at higher risk for glaucoma. Race can also affect your risk, and African Americans have a higher chance of developing glaucoma. Having diabetes or having a close member of your family who has glaucoma also puts you in a higher risk category.

What are the Types of Glaucoma?

  • Open-angle glaucoma—This is the most common type of glaucoma. This type is progressive, and it slowly damages the optic nerve and causes vision loss. The right and left eye may progress at different levels.
  • Closed-angle glaucoma—This type of glaucoma accounts for about 10 percent of glaucoma cases in America. The iris and lens block the movement of fluid between chambers of the eye and cause pressure to build up. Acute closed-angle glaucoma can happen suddenly and requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage.
  • Congenital glaucoma—This glaucoma is rare and can occur at birth. Children and young adults can also develop this type of glaucoma.

How is Glaucoma Diagnosed?

An eye exam will include tonometry, a test of eye pressure, which indicates your risk for glaucoma.  But the only way to accurately diagnose glaucoma is for your eye doctor to examine your optic nerve as part of a comprehensive eye exam.  For most, glaucoma has no symptoms until significant damage has been done, so it’s important to have regular eye exams.

How is Glaucoma Treated?

Medicine, usually eye drops, is prescribed to treat glaucoma. Some ophthalmologists recommend surgery or laser treatment. Lost vision cannot be restored through any medication or procedure, but treatment can prevent further damage (Source: Web MD).