By Dr. Rachel Gelman
Glaucoma is a progressive disease characterized by damage to the eye’s optic nerve secondary to high-eye pressure. If left untreated, over time this results in loss of vision and eventual blindness. Glaucoma is a progressive disease characterized by damage to the eye’s optic nerve secondary to high-eye pressure. If left untreated, over time this results in loss of vision and eventual blindness.
Specialized cells inside the eye continuously produce a clear fluid that nourishes the eye, called the aqueous humor. The eye has a drainage system in place, referred to as “the angle”, that continuously drains the aqueous humor so that the pressure in the eye remains stable. But when there’s a problem with this drainage system, like a clogged drain, the fluid builds up and the pressure in the eye increases to a point where it starts to cause atrophy of the optic nerve.
The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting light signals to the brain; therefore, damage to it results in irreversible loss of vision. Initially those with glaucoma are usually unaware that they have it because the condition is usually painless, progresses very slowly, and first causes loss of peripheral vision, which is not typically noticeable.
- Factors that increase the risk of glaucoma and warrant an eye exam include:
- Having family members with glaucoma
- Being of African, Hispanic, Asian or Inuit heritage
- Age above 60
- Severe farsightedness or nearsightedness
- History of an eye injury
- Long-term use of steroids (oral, eye drops, skin creams, inhalers, injections, nasal sprays)
- Diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, and poor blood circulation
If your eye doctor suspects you have glaucoma, structural and functional tests of the optic nerve are performed periodically in order to make the diagnosis. Treatment options available to lower eye pressure include the elimination of any offending agents, the use of prescription eye drops and laser treatments.
Surgical remedies include the creation of a new channel for fluid outflow, placement of a drainage implant to shunt fluid out of the eye and cataract surgery.
The most important thing to remember if you have glaucoma is that though there is no cure, glaucoma is a controllable disease. And while lost vision can’t be restored, having regular eye exams and following your eye doctor’s treatment plan is the best way to preserve the sight you have.
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