Glaucoma is an eye disease that typically has no symptoms through much of the disease process. It can cause a loss of vision that starts at the outer edges of vision that is difficult to notice early on. If left untreated or undetected, it can cause central vision loss or total blindness.
The most common risk factor for glaucoma is elevated eye pressure, which is checked during a comprehensive eye examination. The pressure of the inside of the human eye is not felt by the person, so it can be significantly high without any symptoms. The increased pressure can cause painless and permanent damage to the optic nerve that enters the back of the eye from the brain. This damage results progressive damage to the bundle of nerve cells that carry electrical signals from the eye to the brain.
Glaucoma does not always have a known cause. Risk factors include African descent, family history, age over 60, previous eye trauma, sleep apnea, and extreme nearsightedness. Since the parts of the eyes that become damaged in glaucoma are easily seen by eye doctors, it can be detected at its earliest stages if a person has regular eye examinations.
In rare cases, glaucoma can cause eye pain, clouded vision, and sudden loss of vision. Anyone who has a rapid onset of these symptoms should contact their eye doctor immediately. Medications and/or surgery can help reduce the pressure quickly and minimize damage to the eye.
In all other glaucoma cases, the typical treatment is the use of eye drops that lower the fluid pressure inside the eye. These drops are very tolerable and can be taken for life, unless they lose their effect or cause allergic or irritating side effects. Drops can be supplemented by special laser surgeries, and in some advanced cases glaucoma must be treated by special surgery called drainage procedures.
Eye doctors monitor for glaucoma risk by testing eye pressure, examining the optic nerve with a microscope, specialized photography, and by computerized peripheral vision testing. Glaucoma is manageable and can be kept at non-threatening levels for life with early detection and treatment.
Please make time to have a complete eye and vision examination annually. It could help save your vision!