What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease which, if uncontrolled, can lead to irreversible loss of vision and, in severe cases, blindness. It results in very slowly progressive damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is in the back of the eye and sends light signals from the eye to the brain. Though the cause of glaucoma is not fully understood, in many cases, glaucoma is associated with increased intraocular (eye) pressure.
There are two types of glaucoma:
- Open-angle glaucoma
- Narrow or closed-angle glaucoma
Early symptoms of open-angle glaucoma often go undetected because the changes in vision are so gradual that they go unnoticed until significant loss has occurred. Peripheral vision is usually affected before central vision. If left untreated the disease will progress to total blindness.
Patients with narrow or closed-angle glaucoma often do not experience any symptoms until it is too late. If the angle suddenly, or acutely, closes, they can experience severe pain, blurred vision, nausea and halos around lights. The pain is often so severe that patients present to the emergency room, and treatment is needed quickly to prevent permanent damage.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma by far. It is the second-leading cause of blindness in the world. It can, however, be effectively treated if caught early. Glaucoma is often referred to as a “silent thief of sight” because even though it is estimated that the disease affects over 4 million Americans, only half of them actually know that they have the disease.
Most of the time, glaucoma is detected during routine eye exams. Glaucoma cannot be cured and vision loss from glaucoma cannot be reversed. However, with early detection and treatment, glaucoma can almost always be controlled and vision preserved. This is why regular eye exams are especially important for people over 35, or those in other high-risk groups. Treatment for glaucoma can range from eye drops to surgery, with the goal being to control the intraocular pressure.
When patients are diagnosed with narrow angles on an eye exam, a laser procedure is usually recommended to help prevent acute angle-closure glaucoma. Other treatment options are also occasionally needed.