What is Glaucoma?
When it seems your world is closing in on you, it may be Glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve slowly deteriorates. As this nerve deteriorates, diminished side or peripheral vision is usually the first noticeable symptom. Unfortunately, by the time the peripheral vision is affected, Glaucoma has already taken hold.
This eye disease is a major cause of blindness because once the optic nerve has been damaged there is no known treatment capable of repairing it. A build-up of pressure in the eye generally triggers Glaucoma. In order to focus light and deliver a sharp image to the retina, the pressure inside the eye must always be maintained which enables the eye to maintain its shape.
In a healthy eye, pressure is regulated by the flow of a clear fluid called the aqueous that contains oxygen and other nutrients delivered by way of the bloodstream. The fluid circulates through the eye, it drains and it’s continually replenished.
When the aqueous fluid cannot circulate or drain properly, pressure inside the eye builds. Other factors that can cause the optic nerve to deteriorate include inadequate blood supply to the nerve or problems with the structure and/or strength of the optic nerve fibers.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Glaucoma can develop at any age, but the likelihood of it developing increases after age 35. As stated above, the first notable symptom of Chronic Open Angle Glaucoma is diminished peripheral vision. Most often, this loss takes place gradually in one eye. The other eye compensates for the damaged eye which is why the loss is not noticeable until the condition has progressed. Secondary Glaucoma has the same symptoms, the difference being that increased eye pressure most often results from an eye injury, tumor, infection, drugs or inflammation.
With Acute Closed Angle Glaucoma the symptoms are different. They include the appearance of halos around lights, blurred vision, nausea and severe pain. Congenital Glaucoma is apparent at birth. Abnormal fluid drainage causes excessive tearing, a cloudy cornea and eyes that are enlarged and that are sensitive to light.
Who is at risk?
Those with a family history of Glaucoma are most at risk. Diabetics, Afro-Americans and individuals with severe nearsightedness are also in a high-risk category.
Testing for Glaucoma is done as part of a routine eye exam. The eye doctor uses a tonometer to test the pressure in the eyes. The optic nerve is also evaluated using an ophthalmoscope. A gonioscope, which is similar to a large magnifying glass, can check the channels through which the aqueous fluid flows. If Glaucoma is suspected, the eye doctor will initiate tests to evaluate peripheral vision.
Early detection can prolong vision, but eventually the affected person will lose vision. Treatment focuses on relieving the pressure on the eye which limits damage to the optic nerve. Surgery, laser treatments, eye drops and medications are all used to treat Glaucoma.