Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. It is a group of eye disorders that lead to progressive damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual signals from the eye to the brain.
Initially, glaucoma affects peripheral vision but it can progress to central vision loss and eventual blindness in severe cases. Optic nerve damage is irreversible and can be the result of an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye, poor blood flow to the nerve, or trauma.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form. Many people are not aware they have this condition until they have significant vision loss because it develops slowly and usually without symptoms. On the contrary, acute angle-closure glaucoma usually occurs abruptly due to a rapid increase in eye pressures.
Symptoms may include severe eye pain, redness, nausea, halos around lights, and blurred vision. This is an emergent condition because severe vision loss can occur quickly.
The risk of developing glaucoma increases for people over age 60. Other risk factors include family history, diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, heart disease, eye injury, thin corneas, high myopia, and long-term usage of corticosteroids.
During the comprehensive eye exam, the eye doctor will evaluate optic nerve health and assess risk factors. Supplemental testing may be recommended to monitor for change and/or determine course of treatment.
The goal of treatment is to manage the eye pressures and to prevent or slow progression. Treatment is usually topical eye drops and/or surgery. Since there is no cure for glaucoma, patients will likely continue treatment for the rest of their lives.
Early detection, prompt treatment, and regular monitoring can help control glaucoma and preserve eyesight.