What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a common ocular disease which can cause a progressive vision loss and eventually lead to blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially among the aging population. The good news is that we now have excellent methods for both diagnosis and management of glaucoma.

Glaucoma affects the optic nerve of the eye. This is the part of the that is located in the retina and is responsible for sending signals from the eye to the brain and subsequently allowing the brain to process everything the eye is seeing. In patients with glaucoma, there is a slow, progressive loss of the nerve fibers which make up the optic nerve. You cannot see your optic nerve but your eye doctor is able to see it when examining with various pieces of specialized equipment. There are also a number of auxiliary tests which can be ordered to help evaluate for glaucoma it patients who are deemed suspicious for glaucoma (see below).

Is there a cure for glaucoma?

Is there a cure for glaucoma?

There is no cure for glaucoma; however, early detection of the disease and lifelong monitoring is the best way to protect against vision loss. Glaucoma is relatively easy to treat if caught in a timely manner, but once vision is lost from glaucoma there is no getting it back. This is just one reason why seeing an eye doctor regularly is so important.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

There are different types of glaucoma; however, the majority of patients have a form of the disease called primary open angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma essentially has no symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. This is why regular follow up with your physician is key for treatment of glaucoma. When glaucoma becomes severe, you may notice changes in your peripheral vision or even loss of central vision.

Could I be at risk for glaucoma?

Glaucoma can occur in any age group; however, it is much more common in the aging population. Additional risk factors include the following:

  • are over age 40
  • have one or multiple family members with glaucoma
  • are of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage
  • have high eye pressure
  • have had an eye injury
  • use long-term steroid medications
  • have corneas that are thin in the center

Normally the range for intraocular eye pressure is between 10 to 21 mmHg and most people in this range will never develop glaucoma. People with pressures in the "normal" range, however, can still develop glaucoma. Also, there are people with elevated pressures above 25mmHg who may not show any damage to their optic nerve. Therefore, while the eye pressure is one of the most important factors that your eye doctor may be interested in, it is not the only one.

What special tests could I expect may be performed?

In addition to a complete eye examination, your eye doctor may order additional testing to provide more information about the health of your optic nerve. These include visual field tests, tests of your corneal thickness, and computerized analysis of your optic nerve. At Excellent Vision we all the newest and latest technological advances to help us manage glaucoma including Optical Coherance Tomography Tests for the optic nerve. These are tools that use lasers, which are harmless to your eye, to scan your optic nerve and the nerve fiber layer. The information from these tests is then available to your doctor in the form of pictures and graphs which indicate the probability of glaucoma and help us to monitor for change over time. These are very powerful tests which can pick up early glaucoma and detect very subtle changes which may be too small to detect by just conventional examination alone.

How is glaucoma treated?

The goal of glaucoma treatment is to halt any progression of the disease and thus preserve as much vision as possible. A number of excellent eye drops are now available to do this. Sometimes laser treatments are necessary as additional treatment to eyedrops or as standalone treatment. In some patients, these measures may still not be enough and further surgery is occasionally needed.