Glaucoma Management and Treatment
By James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Almost two and a half million people have this disease, but half do not realize it because there are often no warning symptoms. Glaucoma is known as the silent thief of sight because it silently steals your vision without you even realizing it. If you do not have routine eye exams to check the status of your eye health, glaucoma and other diseases may steal your vision. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. and the leading cause of preventable blindness. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, approximately 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have glaucoma.
There are some risk factors that may increase your chances of getting this disease.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is caused by degeneration of the optic nerve. The pressure inside the eye, known as intraocular pressure (IOP) affects this nerve. When the aqueous humor (a clear liquid that normally flows in and out of the eye) cannot drain properly, pressure builds up in the eye. The resulting increase in IOP can damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss.
When ocular pressure is above normal, the risk of developing glaucoma increases. Several risk factors will affect whether you will develop glaucoma, including the level of IOP, family history, and corneal thickness. If your risk is high, your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may recommend treatment to lower your IOP to prevent future damage.
In angle-closure glaucoma, the iris (the colored part of the eye) may drop over and completely close off the drainage angle, abruptly blocking the flow of aqueous fluid and leading to increased IOP or optic nerve damage. In acute angle-closure glaucoma, there is a sudden increase in IOP due to the buildup of aqueous fluid. This condition is considered an emergency because optic nerve damage and vision loss can occur within hours of the problem. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, seeing halos around lights, and eye pain.
Even some people with “normal” IOP can experience vision loss from glaucoma. This condition is called normal-tension glaucoma. In this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged even though the IOP is considered normal. Normal-tension glaucoma is not well understood, but lowering IOP has been shown to slow progression of this form of glaucoma.
The goal of glaucoma treatment is to lower your eye pressure in order to prevent or slow further vision loss. Our affiliated ophthalmologists will recommend treatment if the risk of vision loss is high. Treatment often consists of eyedrops but can include laser treatment or surgery to create a new drain in the eye. Glaucoma is a chronic disease that can be controlled but not cured. Be sure to get regular eye exams and talk with your doctor about your options in case they determine treatment is right for you.
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