Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is what carries the visual information from our eyes to the back of the brain where it is processed into the images that we see. This damage occurs from a combination of pressure from within the eye pushing on the optic nerve and hampered blood flow to the optic nerve.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60. Although glaucoma can occur at any age, its incidence increases as one ages.
Many forms of glaucoma develop with no warning signs. This is because the damage can be so gradual that one is unaware of changes in their vision until it reaches an advanced stage.
Vision loss from glaucoma cannot be reversed. Therefore, it is important to have regular eye exams that include dilation to best allow the doctor to examine the optic nerve in detail as well as the measurement of the pressure within the eye. This allows the disease to be caught at its earliest stages, which allows vision loss to be slowed or even prevented.
If you have glaucoma, you generally need treatment and monitoring of the condition for the rest of your life. Your doctor based on your individual situation will tailor the frequency of examinations and type of treatment. If left untreated, glaucoma will lead to blindness.
There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. These can be further broken down into numerous subtypes, some of which are listed below.
Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
This is the most common form of glaucoma. The drainage system remains open, but the flow of fluid through this drainage system is partially blocked. This leads to an increase in pressure within the eye, which results in damage to the optic nerve.
In this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged despite the fact that the pressure within the eye is in the normal range. Patients with normal-tension glaucoma have optic nerves that are susceptible to damage at a “normal” pressure. Regardless, lowering the eye pressure in these patients is effective at treating the disease.
With pigmentary glaucoma, pigment granules from the iris (colored part of the eye) build up in the drainage system of the eye. This leads to a slowing of this drainage system, similar to a clogged sink.
In secondary glaucoma, another eye condition or medical condition leads to increased pressure within the eye. This may an inflammatory condition, vascular problem or medication that affects the drainage system within the eye.
It is possible for infants and children to have glaucoma. It may be present at birth or develop during early childhood. The cause of glaucoma in children is caused by blockage of the drainage system or an underlying medical condition.
Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris bulges forward to block the drainage system within the eye. This often results in a rapid and severe elevation of the pressure within the eye. It is common for patients to complain of severe headache, eye pain, nausea, blurred vision and eye redness.
Stay tuned for our next blog, which will discuss the treatment of glaucoma.