Glaucoma refers to a family of diseases that damage the optic nerve. It is a progressive disease that most frequently occurs in individuals over the age of 40, with the risk of the disease increasing with age. There is also a greater risk of developing glaucoma for people with diabetes, hight blood pressure, a history of eye injuries, or a family history of glaucoma.
Fluid continuously moves in and out of the eye. If there is an overproduction of fluid or a blockage interfering with fluid drainage, the pressure within the eye will increase. Increased pressure within the eye damages the optic nerve, which can lead to serious vision loss if it is not detected and treated early. The optic nerve is the nerve that carries information from your eye to your brain. When it is damaged, there is typically a loss in peripheral vision.
Glaucoma usually affects both eyes, but may affect only one. In most cases, it occurs without any pain and may not be noticed until a significant amount of damage has occurred. Vision loss typically occurs over a number of years, however in cases of acute angle-closure glaucoma, sight can deteriorate dramatically in just a few hours.
Detection & Prevention
Because glaucoma tends to be hereditary, those with a family history of the condition should be monitored. Diabetes, vascular disorders, and some medications may also increase risk. Your optometrist will measure the internal pressures of your eyes (tonometry) and will inspect your optic nerve using specialized equipment. Your optometrist may also recommend a visual field test to determine if there has been any loss of peripheral vision.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, your optometrist may initiate treatment or you may be referred to an ophthalmologist for further diagnosis and treatment. If detected and treated early, eye drops and laser surgery are usually effective at maintaining your vision. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist will continue to monitor your eyes to make sure that the ongoing treatment is effective.
If left untreated, glaucoma can cause peripheral vision loss, followed by central vision loss during late stages of the disease, and may cause complete blindness.
Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness in Canada. However, the sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis. Periodic examinations are critical, especially if there is a family history of the disease.