Common Causes of Glaucoma
An estimated 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, but only about half know they have the eye condition. Being unaware of their eye condition puts these Americans at risk for blindness. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, according to statistics presented by the American Optometric Association.
While eye doctors cannot reverse vision loss associated with glaucoma, you can stop vision loss with regular trips to your eye doctor.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting visual impulses from the eye to the brain. The condition occurs when fluid accumulates in the front part of the eye. Excess fluid increases pressure inside the eye; excessive pressure damages the optic nerve.
Clear fluid normally flows through the anterior chamber at the front of the eye to nourish nearby tissue. The fluid leaves the chamber through a drainage angle, positioned between the colored iris and the clear cornea covering the rest of the eye. Some people have a narrow drainage angle that restricts the flow of fluid in a way that causes fluid to build up inside the eye.
Types of Glaucoma
The most common form of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma. This condition develops slowly and does not usually cause symptoms. In fact, many people do not know they have the condition until they have lost a significant amount of sight. This form of glaucoma initially affects peripheral side vision but can eventually cause loss of central vision. Left untreated, significant loss of vision can occur in both eyes, potentially leading to blindness.
The condition occurs when fluid accumulates in the front part of the eye. Excess fluid increases pressure inside the eye; excessive pressure damages the optic nerve.
Acute angle closure glaucoma is a less common form of this eye condition, usually occurring in people with narrow drainage angles. It typically develops abruptly due to a blockage in the drainage angle that causes sudden increase of pressure inside the eye. Symptoms may include severe eye pain, blurred vision, eye redness and seeing colored rings around lights. Acute angle closure glaucoma is an eye emergency that requires immediate medical attention to prevent severe vision loss.
Secondary glaucoma may develop after an injury or another eye disease. Many medical conditions, medications, injuries and eye abnormalities may cause secondary glaucoma. Eye surgery may infrequently lead to this type of glaucoma.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Some people are at higher risk for glaucoma. The condition occurs most often in people over the age of 40. African Americans over the age of 40 and Hispanics over the age of 60 have an especially high risk for developing glaucoma.
Chronic eye inflammation or thinner than normal corneas increases the likelihood that an individual will develop glaucoma. Medications that increase pressure inside the eyes also increase this risk.
What You Can Do About It
Aside from avoiding eye injuries and completing recommended treatment for other eye diseases, there is currently no way to prevent glaucoma. Eye care specialists can diagnose and treat this eye condition, however, especially with early detection.
Left untreated, significant loss of vision can occur in both eyes, potentially leading to blindness.
Your eye doctor performs a comprehensive eye exam to diagnose glaucoma. The eye care specialist will gather a detailed patient and family health history, test visual acuity, perform tonometry to measure the pressure inside the eye. The optometrist can perform pachymetry to measure the thickness of the cornea and evaluate the retina. Supplemental testing helps evaluate angle drainage. It is essential for high-risk patients to have dilated eye exams yearly.
Treatment cannot restore vision already lost to glaucoma but early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve vision. The goal of glaucoma treatment is to reduce pressure inside the eye. Treatment usually begins with eye drops but may include other medications, laser treatment or surgery.