This will be a two-part series on glaucoma that will include the main types of the disease, the symptoms and risk factors, and treatments available to combat the disease.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases which produces increased pressure within the eye, due to a fluid build-up. Over time, according to the Glaucoma Foundation, this pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve and cause vision loss. The optic nerve is part of the central nervous system and carries the visual information from the eye to the brain. Once pressure builds on this nerve, it can start to die, and may lead to blindness.
There are several types of glaucoma, but the two most common are open-angle and closed-angle, with open-angle being far more common of the two. In fact, it is estimated that at least 90 percent of all glaucoma cases are this type, affecting about three million Americans.
Open-angle glaucoma tends to develop slowly over time and does not present with noticeable symptoms until well into the disease. The Glaucoma Research Foundation says, “Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals vision.” By the time the patient is aware of vision loss, it is often too late to prevent it. Vision loss due to glaucoma is permanent. Open-angle glaucoma is caused by the slow clogging of drainage canals within the eye structure, which results in increased eye pressure. The aspect of “open angle” refers to the angle where the iris meets the cornea is as wide and open as it can be.
So the question begs, if you don’t know it’s happening, how can you prevent it or stop it? One way is to understand common risk factors. Knowing your family medical history is an excellent place to start since glaucoma tends to be hereditary. Those of African-American or Latino descent are also at risk. And those who are diabetic, obese, or have cardiovascular disease may also be at higher risk of developing glaucoma. Of course, age plays a factor as well.
Knowing if you are at risk is just one part of the equation, however. The best line of defense is getting annual check-ups with your eye-care professional. They will perform a comprehensive dilated eye exam, which will help to diagnose early signs of glaucoma.
If it is determined that you have open-angle glaucoma, medications are available to help reduce eye pressure, and several different types of surgery are available as well, including selective laser trabeculoplasty and argon laser trabeculoplasty.
Part two of this series will focus on closed-angle glaucoma and will be posted on Monday, October 10.