WHAT IS IT?
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that lead to damage of the optic nerve (the bundle of nerve fibers that carries information from the eye to the brain), which can then lead to vision loss and the possibility of blindness.
There are two main forms of glaucoma: open-angle (which is the most common form and affects approximately 95% of individuals) and closed-angle.
WHY DOES IT OCCUR?
High-risk factors for open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease, include:
- Being an African American and over 40
- Being over 60 for the general population
- Having a family history of the disease
- Being very nearsighted
- Having a history of diabetes
- Experiencing eye injury or eye surgery
- Take prescription steroids
Closed-angle glaucoma (acute glaucoma) results from a sudden, complete blocking of the fluid flowing out of the eye. Symptoms may include severe pain, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and seeing a rainbow halo around lights. Closed-angle glaucoma is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately or blindness could result rapidly.
HOW COMMON IS IT?
In the United States, approximately 2.2 million people age 40 and older have glaucoma, and of these, as many as 120,000 are blind due the disease. The number of Americans with glaucoma is estimated to increase to 3.3 million by the year 2020. Vision experts estimate that half of those affected may not know they have it because symptoms may not occur during the early stages of the disease.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among African Americans and Hispanics in the United States. African Americans experience glaucoma at a rate of three times that of Caucasians and experience blindness four times more frequently. Between the ages of 45 and 64, glaucoma is fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans than in Caucasians.
HOW IS GLAUCOMA DETECTED?
There are several tests that can help your eye care professional detect glaucoma including:
- Visual acuity test
- Visual field test
- Dilated eye exam
- Tonometry (which measures the pressure inside of the eye)
- Pachymetry (which uses ultrasonic waves to help determine cornea thickness)
Individuals at high risk for glaucoma should have a dilated pupil eye examination and visual field test performed annually.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Currently, there is no "cure" for glaucoma; however, early diagnosis, documentation of optic nerve changes and treatment can control glaucoma before vision loss or blindness occurs.Early treatment for open-angle glaucoma will usually begin with medications (e.g., pills, ointments, eye drops). Surgery may also be an option that you discuss with your doctor.