More than 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have glaucoma, but at least half don’t know it. Commonly referred to as the “Silent Blinder,” glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve that results in loss of vision. Usually by the time patients notice a problem with their vision, significant optic nerve damage has already occurred.
The optic nerve is comprised of a bundle of fibers. These fibers send data of what you see to the brain to be made into a complete image. If enough of these optic nerve fibers are damaged, areas of the image can drop out. If enough of the optic nerve is destroyed, blindness can occur.
Causes of Glaucoma
The eye is full of a fluid called aqueous humor which keeps the eyeball pressurized. Without this pressure, the eyeball would not maintain its shape. The eye maintains a normal pressure by producing a small amount of this fluid constantly. This fluid then leaves the eye through microscopic drainage channels in the front portion of the eye.
If there is a problem with the drainage channels and more fluid is made in the eye than is allowed to leave it, then pressure builds up. This increased eyeball pressure can then lead to eventual damage of the optic nerve and possible vision loss.
Usually, glaucoma patients experience no symptoms. However, there is a type of glaucoma which results in a sudden elevation of eye pressure. This form will cause symptoms that may include blurred vision, severe eye pain, headache, halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. This form is considered a true eye emergency, and treatment should be sought immediately. If an acute attack of glaucoma is not treated quickly, blindness can result.
Are You at Risk?
The risk factors for glaucoma include:
- family history of glaucoma
- a history of elevated eye pressures
- being of African ancestry
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans, and they are six to eight times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians.
Early Detection Could Save Your Sight
As mentioned previously, you will not know you have glaucoma until you notice vision loss. Therefore, it is critical that you have regular eye exams. Your ophthalmologist can measure your eye pressure, examine your optic nerve and perform testing to evaluate your central and peripheral vision. Early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma is essential in preventing continued damage to the optic nerve cells and possible vision loss.
The goal for treatment of glaucoma is to lower eye pressure so that further nerve damage and vision loss are prevented. This can be done using medicated eye drops, pills, laser surgery, eye surgery or a combination of these methods.