Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve is a bundle of nerve fibers that carries vision information from the eye to the brain to allow you to see. Glaucoma damage typically occurs when extra fluid builds up in the eye and puts pressure onto the nerve, damaging it over time.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in patients over 60 years of age. Fortunately, however, if glaucoma is caught early, vision loss can be prevented with treatment.
Our eyes are constantly making and draining fluid, called aqueous humor, from the front of the eye. The fluid drains out through a specialized drainage structure called the drainage angle. This process keeps the pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) stable. However, if the drainage angle is not working properly, the fluid builds up and results in higher eye pressures. This higher pressure causes damage to the optic nerve over time.
The optic nerve is made up of more than a million tiny nerve fibers. It functions much like an electric cable made up of small wires. These nerve fibers transmit vision information from the eye to the brain, allowing us to see. Glaucoma slowly kills these nerve fibers leading to blind spots in the vision. Early in the disease, these blind spots are typically in the far peripheral vision. Glaucoma only involves the central vision late in the disease. For this reason, many patients have no symptoms of glaucoma until the disease is advanced. If not treated, all of the nerve fibers may die resulting in blindness.
There are two main types of glaucoma. Primary Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG) is the most common type. POAG results in slow, gradual damage to the optic nerve. There are typically no symptoms involved until late in the disease. In most patients with this type of glaucoma, their eye pressure is elevated. However, there are some patients whose nerves are weaker and can undergo damage at ‘normal’ eye pressures. Angle Closure Glaucoma is less common and results in more rapid damage to the optic nerve and higher eye pressures.
The only way to diagnose glaucoma is with a complete eye exam. A glaucoma screening that only checks eye pressure is not enough to find glaucoma.
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but there are some people who are at higher risk.
These include people who:
Unfortunately, the damage caused by glaucoma is permanent. Upon diagnosis, the goal of treatment is to prevent any further damage and associated vision loss. Treatment options include eye drops, laser surgery, or incisional glaucoma surgery. Eye drops are typically the first treatment and are sufficient for most patients.
At the Eye Clinic of Meridian, our doctors have years of experience in treating mild, moderate, and advanced glaucoma. We also have the most up-to-date technology for assessing optic nerve health that can help minimize vision loss by allowing early diagnosis and intervention.