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Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. Through early detection, diagnosis and treatment, a person can often protect their eyes against serious vision loss.

The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers and is the part of the eye which carries information to the brain. A healthy optic nerve is necessary for good vision. A clear fluid called aqueous humor flows continuously in and out of a space in the front of the eye called the anterior chamber and nourishes the cornea and the lens. This fluid leaves the anterior chamber at the open angle where the cornea and iris meet through a spongy meshwork, called the trabecular meshwork that serves like a drain in the eye.Glaucoma is hereditary and a leading cause of blindness When that drain becomes clogged, the fluid can not leave the eye as fast as it is produced, and the fluid builds up and causes pressure inside the eye to rise to a level that may damage the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, open-angle glaucoma – the most common form of glaucoma – may result.

Controlling the pressure in the eye is important, but it’s important to note that glaucoma can develop without increased eye pressure – that is called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma. Also, not every person with increased eye pressure develops glaucoma as some people can tolerate a higher pressure than others. Whether or not a person develops glaucoma depends on the level of pressure their optic nerve can tolerate without being damaged, and that level is different for every person. A yearly comprehensive dilated eye exam is very important as it helps the ophthalmologist determine what level of eye pressure is normal for that individual.

While anyone can develop glaucoma, some people are at higher risk than others. They include:

  • African-Americans over age 40.
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Mexican-Americans.
  • People with a family history of glaucoma.
  • People with high eye pressure.
  • People with abnormal optic nerve anatomy.

Glaucoma is detected through a comprehensive eye exam that includes a visual field test, tonometry (measures the pressure in the eye), pachymetry (measures the thickness of the cornea), specialized photos that map the optic nerve dimensions, and a dilated eye exam to examine the optic nerve for signs of damage. While there is no cure for glaucoma and vision lost from the disease cannot be restored, there are treatment options that include medications, laser surgery, and conventional surgery.

Sources: www.nei.nih.gov; www.glaucomafoundation.org