Glaucoma is a sight threatening eye disease in which the internal pressure in your eyes increases enough to damage the nerve fibers in your optic nerve and cause vision loss. It is often related to increased intraocular pressure (IOP), but may also be due to vascular insufficiency. These factors can lead to optic nerve damage, visual field loss, and, if left untreated, blindness. There appears to be a genetic basis for glaucoma. Glaucoma is known to affect between 2.5 and 3 million Americans and it is estimated that there are at least another 1 million undiagnosed individuals. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the leading cause of legal blindness among African-Americans. About 80,000 Americans are legally blind as the result of glaucoma. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans, and those who are very nearsighted or diabetic are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
The most common type of glaucoma (primary open angle glaucoma) develops gradually and painlessly, without symptoms. A rarer type (acute angle-closure glaucoma) occurs rapidly and its symptoms may include blurred vision, loss of side vision, seeing colored rings around lights and pain or redness in the eyes. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency. If the high pressure is not reduced within hours, it can permanently damage vision. There are other variations, such as congenital glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma and secondary glaucoma.
Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled. Vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for people at risk for glaucoma. A comprehensive optometric examination will include:
The treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medicines to lower the pressure in your eyes. In some cases, laser treatment, surgery, filtration methods or diode laser may be effective in reducing pressure.
Ocular hypertension is an increase in the pressure in your eyes that is above the range considered normal with no detectable changes in vision or damage to the structure of your eyes. The term is used to distinguish people with elevated pressure from those with glaucoma, a serious eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve and vision loss.
Ocular hypertension can occur in people of all ages, but it occurs more frequently in African Americans, those over age 40 and those with family histories of ocular hypertension and/or glaucoma. It is also more common in those who are very nearsighted or who have diabetes.
Ocular hypertension has no noticeable signs or symptoms. We can check the pressure in your eyes with an instrument called a tonometer and can examine the inner structures of your eyes to assess your overall eye health.
Not all people with ocular hypertension will develop glaucoma. However, there is an increased risk of glaucoma among those with ocular hypertension, so regular comprehensive optometric examinations are essential to your overall eye health. There is no cure for ocular hypertension, however, careful monitoring and treatment, when indicated, can decrease the risk of damage to your eyes.