Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss. When the pressure inside the eye increases, damage to the optic nerve fibers may occur, causing blind spots to develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.
Clear liquid, called the aqueous humor, circulates inside the front portion of the eye. A small amount of this fluid is produced constantly, and an equal amount flows out of the eye through a microscopic drainage system, maintaining a constant level of pressure within the eye. (This liquid is not part of the tears on the outer surface of the eye.) Because the eye is a closed structure, should the drainage area for the aqueous humor become blocked, the excess fluid cannot flow out of the eye. Fluid pressure within the eye will increase, pushing against the optic nerve and potentially causing damage.
As a rule, damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed. Eye drops, laser surgery and surgery in the operating room are methods used to help prevent further damage. In some cases, oral medications may also be prescribed.
Glaucoma can affect people of all ages and races. Those at greater risk include:
- People over the age of 50
- African-Americans (particularly those over 35 years old)
- People with a family history of glaucoma
- Long-term steroid users
- People who are very nearsighted
With any type of glaucoma, periodic examinations are very important to prevent vision loss. Because it can progress without your knowledge, adjustments to your treatment may be necessary from time to time.