What You Need to Know about Glaucoma

As we explained in an earlier blog post on glaucoma, “the silent thief of sight,” increased intraocular pressure causes damage to the optic nerve. This nerve is responsible for transmitting images to your brain.

If the condition goes untreated, glaucoma can cause a total loss of vision within a few years. But even with treatment, about 15% of people with glaucoma become blind in at least one eye within 20 years, according to Mayo Clinic.

Types of glaucoma

While the first two conditions are the most frequently experienced, glaucoma can take several forms.

1) Open-angle glaucoma is the most common manifestation of the disease. A partial blockage in the area of tissue located around the base of the cornea causes a gradual increase of pressure in the eye.

2) Angle-closure glaucoma is more common in Asia than in the West. A narrowing in the drain space between the iris and cornea causes a sudden buildup of pressure. People with narrow drainage angles are at increased risk for this type of glaucoma.

3) Normal-tension glaucoma occurs when the optic never is damaged even though eye pressure is normal. As of 2019, the cause of this condition is unknown. It may be due to insufficient blood flow to the nerve caused by arterial plaque or other circulatory conditions.

4) Glaucoma in infants and children is sometimes present at birth. Other times, optic nerve damage develops in the first few years of life. This can be due to drainage blockages or other underlying medical conditions.

5) Pigmentary glaucoma is a condition in which pigment granules from the iris collect in the drainage channels, preventing fluid from exiting the eye.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Some segments of the population have an increased chance of developing glaucoma. Because vision loss can occur before any symptoms are noticed, it’s important to be aware of the following risk factors.

  • Are of Asian, African-American, Hispanic, Irish, Russian, Scandinavian, or Inuit descent
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Are over age 60
  • Have poor vision, especially extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Have corneas that are thin in the center
  • Have certain medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and sickle cell anemia
  • Take certain corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, or use eye drops for a long period of time
  • Have had blunt or chemical trauma to the eye
  • Have experienced a severe eye infection
  • Have had eye surgery to correct another condition

Here at Riverdale Vision Care, we offer the latest in imaging technology to help diagnose early glaucoma. Since early detection can prevent vision loss, it’s important that you schedule your yearly eye exam.

Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

Glaucoma is known to be the silent thief of sight.  Glaucoma is a disease where the eye’s optic nerve gets damaged generally due to pressure buildup within, resulting in progressive and irreversible loss of vision. What is alarming about glaucoma is that in the early to middle stages of the disease, you will not experience any symptoms, even if you have lost vision. This is because glaucoma begins by taking away our peripheral (or side) vision before it starts to reduce our central vision, potentially to the point of blindness. Humans are not very in-tune with what is going on off to the sides of our vision; we are more in-tune with what is straight ahead. This is why glaucoma is known as the silent thief of sight. But the good news is that glaucoma can be diagnosed during a comprehensive eye exam and is treatable.  

Often, glaucoma is caused by high pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve, but you can have glaucoma even with “normal” eye pressure.  Eye pressure is measured at your eye exam, typically with a device that quickly and lightly puffs air at your eye (yes, we know this test is a nuisance, but now you know how important it is!) or by using a yellow drop in the eye and a blue light. While this gives our eye doctor some information as to your risk for glaucoma, glaucoma is not diagnosable just through a single test.  At your eye exam, we also look directly at your optic nerve to determine if it looks healthy or potentially sick. If findings on an eye exam look “suspicious” for glaucoma, there are additional tests available to help us diagnose the condition.

Treatment options for glaucoma range from daily eye drops to laser procedures (not to be confused with LASIK) to more involved eye surgeries.  The goal of treatment is to slow the progressive loss of vision as there is no “cure” to fully stop glaucoma.

While glaucoma incidence increases with age, patients of any age can develop glaucoma. Having a close relative such as a sibling or parent with glaucoma may mean you are at a higher risk for developing the disease.

Here at Riverdale Vision Care, we offer the latest in technology to help diagnose early glaucoma.  Ocular coherence tomography (OCT) is a diagnostic test that counts up the number of nerve cells that form your optic nerve, and gives us some idea if you have a normal or low amount of nerve cells. A low number of nerve cells may indicate glaucoma. We offer this imaging technology as an optional part of your comprehensive eye exam to screen for early detection of glaucoma which may not show up on other “routine” tests.  It is a wonderful tool to see if “things are getting worse” because we can repeat it over time and see if your nerve cell counts are declining from disease development or progression. Since early detection of glaucoma can prevent vision loss, it is important that you schedule your yearly eye exam. There is no better time to have your exam than January which is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Don’t wait until it is too late to save your vision!