Although glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in Americans, early detection can prevent you from losing your eyesight. In the healthy eye, a clear fluid called aqueous (pronounced AY-kwee-us) humor circulates inside the front portion of your eye. To maintain a constant healthy eye pressure, your eye continually produces a small amount of aqueous humor while an equal amount of this fluid flows out of your eye. If you have glaucoma, the aqueous humor does not flow out of the eye properly. Fluid pressure in the eye builds up and, over time, causes damage to the optic nerve fibers.
Many people, from infants to the elderly, have glaucoma and don’t know it because of a lack of symptoms. Fortunately, treatments are available and early detection is critical to preventing optic nerve damage and blindness from glaucoma. There are two basic types of glaucoma:
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, affecting about 90% of glaucoma patients. The risk of developing open-angle glaucoma increases with age. It has no symptoms in its early stages and vision is normal. As the optic nerve becomes more damaged, blank spots begin to appear in your field of vision. Patients typically don’t notice the blank spots until the optic nerve is significantly damaged and these spots become large.
In the later stages patients can experience:
- Gradual loss of side or peripheral vision
- An inability to adjust the eye to darkened rooms
- Rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights
Closed-angle glaucoma (also called angle-closure glaucoma) is more rapid in onset and affects less than 10% of glaucoma patients. Symptoms occur suddenly and medical attention should be sought immediately.
Symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Severe eye pain
- Rainbow-colored halos around lights
- Nausea and vomiting
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Regular medical eye exams can help prevent unnecessary vision loss. People who are at a greater risk for glaucoma usually have the following conditions:
- A family history of glaucoma
- Elevated eye pressure
- African descent
- Nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Past eye injuries
- Regular, long-term use of cortisone/steroid products
- Thinner central corneal thickness
- Pre-existing thinning of the optic nerve
Early Detection is Key
Complete eye exams are necessary to diagnose glaucoma or determine if you are at risk for developing it. Your ophthalmologist will measure your eye pressure, dilate your pupils to evaluate your optic nerve and perform a visual field test to measure your side vision.
Regularly scheduled eye exams are necessary to monitor the changes in your eyesight and will help to determine whether you may develop glaucoma.
Glaucoma is usually controlled with daily eye drops. These medications lower eye pressure, either by improving the flow of aqueous fluid though the drainage angle or by decreasing the amount of fluid.
Source: American Academy of Ophthalmology
http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/glaucoma/051062-1 American Academy of Ophthalmology: Glaucoma A Closer Look