What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease caused by high pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve resulting in permanent vision loss. The diagnosis of glaucoma is based upon having 1) elevated pressure inside the eye, 2) optic nerve damage, and 3) loss of side vision. There are some people, however, who have high pressures but no damage to their optic nerves or loss of vision. These people are considered glaucoma suspects. Some of these individuals will never develop glaucoma, but there is no way to tell in advanced who will progress to glaucoma.
What causes Glaucoma?
We don’t completely understand what causes glaucoma. In most cases, a painless increase in the pressure inside the eye occurs, which can lead to progressive vision loss and optic nerve damage. High pressure inside the eye is caused by an imbalance in the production and drainage of fluid in the eye. The drainage channels (called the trabecular meshwork) that normally allow the fluid to exit from the eye do not function properly. More fluid is produced than can be drained through these channels. This results in an accumulation of fluid inside the eye, thus raising the pressure.
What are risk factors for Glaucoma?
The chance for developing glaucoma is higher when there are additional risk factors involved. High-risk suspects have one or more of the following factors:
- African-American descent
- Family members with glaucoma
- Over 50 years of age
- Eye pressure that is repeatedly in the mid to upper 20’s
- Abnormal optic nerve appearance
- A high degree of nearsightedness
- Medical conditions such as heart or vascular disease, diabetes, migraine headaches and high blood pressure
Am I a Glaucoma Suspect?
Glaucoma suspect describes a person with one or more risk factors that may lead to glaucoma such as increased eye pressure, family members with glaucoma, or an abnormal optic nerve appearance. This person does not necessarily have definite optic nerve damage or vision loss due to glaucoma. A great overlap can exist between findings in people with early glaucoma, glaucoma suspect, and certain conditions that appear similar to glaucoma changes.
What treatments are available?
In individuals who are at a high risk of developing damage from glaucoma, preventive measures, including lowering the pressure inside the eye, may be needed. This can be accomplished with prescription medications, laser treatments, or surgery.
What can I do to monitor my eyes?
Regular eye examinations with an ophthalmologist are very important to identify and treat people who are glaucoma suspect. Automated visual fields, retinal nerve fiber layer measurements (OCT), and examination of the fluid drain within the eye (gonioscopy) are all essential in providing clues about the health of the optic nerve. By monitoring them for the earliest signs of glaucoma damage, excellent vision can often be preserved.
We have all the latest, state-of-the-art testing equipment to monitor our patients who are glaucoma suspects. If you have family members with glaucoma or any concern that you may have glaucoma, please inform us at your next visit. We can perform all the necessary exams and testing required to determine if you have glaucoma.