Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that results in a gradual loss of vision, and occurs without warning or symptoms. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States in people over 40 years old (macular degeneration is the first). Unfortunately, up to 50% of people who have glaucoma do not know that they have the eye disease.
Glaucoma leads to blindness by damaging the optic nerve. A common hallmark of this disease is an increased pressure in the eye, although not all types of glaucoma arise from high pressures. The pressure increase slowly damages the eye’s optic nerve and causes peripheral vision loss at first which can progress to loss of all vision.
When detected early, blindness from glaucoma is almost always preventable. Often there are no symptoms at first, but a comprehensive eye exam can detect early stages of glaucoma.
A decrease of blood flow or oxygen to the optic nerve can lead to glaucoma. This can be compared to shutting off the flow through a garden hose by squeezing the hose. When this occurs, nerve tissue is damaged, and the ability to transmit visual images to the brain is compromised. If this is allowed to continue, the nerve will die and blindness will result.
If you have any of these risk factors, you have a greater likelihood of developing glaucoma:
- Family history of glaucoma (10 times greater risk)
- High intraocular (eye) pressure
- Risk increases with age (although children can have glaucoma)
- Race (Afro-American)
- Thin corneas (central thickness of less than 555 microns)
- Suspicious looking optic nerves or nerve fiber layer
- High myopia
- Eye injury or surgery
- History of steroid use
- Migraine headache and peripheral vasospasm
- Sleep-related breathing disorder
If you are at risk, you should have your eyes examined every year. Your specialized exam for glaucoma will include a measurement of your eye pressure, visual fields, and nerve fiber layer, and a retinal photo. At the Hollywood Vision Center, we also have instrumentation that is a powerful predictor of glaucoma development, up to 22 months before it develops.
There are many forms of glaucoma. The most common form is called Open Angle Glaucoma which usually related to high intraocular pressure. There’s also one form of glaucoma that is called low tension or normal tension where the pressure is not elevated. Acute (angle closure) Glaucoma is a much less common form and almost always involves one eye although the fellow eye has the same predisposition. It often develops rapidly, within 24 hours and is usually accompanied by severe pain and nausea. This type of Glaucoma is an emergency and must be treated immediately in order to minimize vision loss as well as save the involved eye.
There is no treatment to reverse the effects of glaucoma, but progression can be slowed down or prevented. The treatment goal in Glaucoma Therapy is to prevent further damage from occurring and to preserve the existing vision. This is accomplished through the use of medicated eye drops, laser and in some advance cases, surgery. There are also homeopathic medicines and natural supplements that can support the health of the optic nerve and are complementary to medical treatment. Addressing glaucoma in the early stages can help protect your eyes against vision loss. The effectiveness of any Glaucoma Therapy in large part depends on your compliance to the treatment and keeping scheduled follow ups with us.