Jan 22, 2020
Breaking Down Glaucoma & How It’s Treated
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, making it the perfect time for us to share some insight into this incredibly common condition.
Just how common is it, you might wonder? Well, more than 3 million Americans are living with some type of glaucoma — and the condition is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Let’s take a few minutes to answer some common questions about glaucoma and how it’s treated.
Q: What is glaucoma?
A: Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve in the eye. It occurs when fluid builds up in the front of your eye, which raises the pressure within your eye and damages the optic nerve.
The optic nerve is responsible for transferring visual messages from the retina in your eye to the vision centers in the brain. Because glaucoma negatively impacts the optic nerve, it can lead to vision loss.
Q: Are there different types of glaucoma?
A: Yes, there are two main types of glaucoma — primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is by far the most common and develops slowly over time when the eye doesn’t drain away fluid as well as it should. At first, glaucoma may only affect a person’s peripheral, or side, vision, but it can advance to also affect central vision, too.
Angle-closure glaucoma, on the other hand, often develops suddenly due to an increase in eye pressure. This occurs when the iris of a person’s eye is too close to the drainage angle in the eye, which can eventually completely block fluid from leaving the eye. This leads to a sudden increase in eye pressure and vision loss and is considered an emergency.
Q: Can glaucoma be prevented?
A: You can’t totally prevent glaucoma from happening in the first place. But if it’s diagnosed early, you can take steps to prevent significant damage and vision loss.
Since glaucoma is typically a slow-progressing disease, regular comprehensive eye exams are important. An annual dilated eye exam allows your eye doctor to take a thorough look at the inside structure of your eye and identify any potential damage to the optic nerve.
During your annual exam, your eye doctor will also likely check the pressure in your eyes to keep careful track of what’s normal for you and how your pressure changes over time.
Q: Who’s at risk for glaucoma?
A: Any person of any age can be affected by glaucoma. In fact, in rare cases, babies can be born with the condition. But glaucoma is far more likely among adults ages 60 and older and is the leading cause of blindness in this group.
Certain populations are at an increased risk, including African Americans, those with a family history of the disease, people with diabetes, and those who are severely nearsighted. If you fall within any of these categories, you may need more frequent eye exams to keep a careful gauge on your intraocular pressure.
Q: How is glaucoma treated?
A: If you’re diagnosed with glaucoma, help is available to help mitigate the progressive effects of the disease. The goal of treatment for this condition is to lower eye pressure.
Eye drops are the most common form of treatment, but your treatment might also include oral medications, a laser procedure, or surgery to create a new drainage system in the eye. Regardless of the type of treatment you receive, regular monitoring is needed to watch for changes in eye pressure and vision.