Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, which if left untreated, can lead to loss of peripheral vision and possibly blindness. It can occur when the internal pressure of the eye increases enough to damage fibers of the optic nerve. Glaucoma usually develops without pain or symptoms, and while it cannot be prevented, it can be controlled to prevent or minimize vision loss.
There are two major types of glaucoma and numerous other sub types. Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common, developing slowly and painlessly, so it can destroy vison without any warning symptoms. The second type is acute angle closure glaucoma which occurs when there is a sudden blockage of drainage channels causing a rapid pressure increase. Symptoms include blurred vision, haloes, pain and redness and sometimes nausea.
The diagnosis of glaucoma starts with a comprehensive eye exam. The intra ocular pressure is measured and the optic nerve is evaluated for any changes. Further testing and monitoring include computerized visual field testing and optical coherence tomography (OCT) which measures the optic nerve and retinal nerve fiber layer. People of all ages can develop glaucoma but risk factors include:
- Over age 40
- family history of glaucoma
- people who are very nearsighted
- African Americans
The first line of treatment for glaucoma is pressure lowering eye drops. Sometimes laser treatment or surgery is necessary for control. New treatments include micro-invasive glaucoma surgery. All treatments are designed to prevent the loss of vision but early detection and treatment are of greatest importance.