Glaucoma is an umbrella description of a group of eye diseases that, left untreated, can cause blindness. Glaucoma often goes undiagnosed for some time because it presents itself with very few abnormal signs and symptoms. That said, regular eye examinations are vital in the detection and treatment of the disease.
Commonly, glaucoma is associated with increased pressure – called intraocular pressure – within the eye. This can be detected by your physician with a simple procedure known as tonometry. And since one of the first signs of glaucoma is a loss of peripheral vision, your doctor may also do a visual field test to determine if any vision loss has already occurred.
Vision loss from glaucoma arises due to optic nerve damage – that is, an injury to the nerve responsible for transmitting visual images from your eye to your brain. Since glaucoma damage is irreversible, going for a regular eye check-up, and securing treatment early is integral to stopping the progression of the disease.
It is also important to note that glaucoma tends to be hereditary. If a member of your family has been diagnosed, be wary and, in this case, recognize that regularly scheduled eye exams can become even more crucial in Glaucoma’s diagnosis and treatment.
Two Major Types
There are two major types of glaucoma. One is more common than the other, but both are equally capable of causing irreparable damage to your eyesight. They are known as Open-Angle Glaucoma and Angle-Closure Glaucoma. Find out more below.
- Open-Angle Glaucoma is a chronic condition also known as ‘POAG’ (primary open-angle glaucoma) or ‘wide angle glaucoma’. It is characterized by blockage of the trabecular meshwork (the eye’s drainage system) and by increased intraocular pressure from a reduced flow of the eye’s aqueous humor (fluid within the eye). The rise in pressure, if left undetected, damages the optic nerve and causes irreversible loss of peripheral vision.
Oppositely, this form of glaucoma responds well to early detection/treatment, which will ultimately slow the progression of the disease and sight dissipation. Common treatments include prescription eye drops, laser surgery and microsurgery.
- Angle-Closure Glaucoma, also called acute glaucoma, is less common than open-angle. It’s initiated by a sudden build-up of intraocular pressure from poor eye fluid drainage. Most often the depleted flow is caused by a narrow angle position of the cornea and iris (the colored part of your eye). Angle-closure glaucoma often causes blurred vision, nausea and severe headaches. Surgery is the most common treatment.
No matter which strain you’re looking at, on a national scale it’s no rare disease. In fact, more than three million people in the U.S. live with glaucoma today. Most commonly, it occurs in those over the age of 40, is more prevalent among African Americans than any other race, and tends to be hereditary.
Although glaucoma cannot be prevented and though it may cause eventual blindness, complete and sudden loss of vision can be prevented if the glaucoma is diagnosed and treated early. It’s never too early to get checked out.