Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, causing permanent vision loss. Most commonly, the damage occurs when your eye's internal fluid pressure rises too high.
In a healthy eye, aqueous humor (fluid) is produced to nourish and clean the eye at the same rate at which it is drained in order to maintain a constant and normal intraocular pressure (IOP). A loss of drainage function leads to a high IOP, which can result in glaucoma. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in irreversible vision loss.
The optic nerve, at the back of the eye, carries visual information to the brain. As the optic nerve fibers are damaged, the amount and quality of information sent to the brain decreases and a loss of vision occurs.
Glaucoma is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Because glaucoma is a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time, a change in the appearance of the optic nerve, a loss of nerve tissue, and a corresponding loss of vision confirm the diagnosis. Some optic nerves may resemble nerves with glaucoma, but the patients may have no other risk factors or signs of glaucoma. These patients should have routine comprehensive exams to monitor any changes.
There are usually no signs that you're developing glaucoma until vision loss occurs, which is why it's so important to have regular eye exams. Your eye doctor can detect and treat high IOP before it progresses to optic nerve damage and vision loss.
To date there is no cure for glaucoma. Glaucoma treatments are designed to slow, or halt, the progression of the disease. Your surgeon will determine what level of IOP is required in order to preserve your vision.
Many people with glaucoma cannot drive a car safely, see their grandchildren on the soccer field, and view the world as they once did. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision.
Typically, glaucoma is treated with a laser or with one or a combination of medications. However, drugs must be taken every day, and these medications can lose their effectiveness over time, especially when patients are in the advanced stages of the disease. When medications cease to be effective, or are deemed unsuitable due to side effects or lifestyle, different surgical techniques can be used.
For those already diagnosed, once your treatment is effective and your glaucoma is stable then you should visit your eye care practitioner as directed by them. You may need to go back more frequently when you first go onto medications, or when your medications are changed or if your glaucoma is not stable. Your eye-health practitioner will advise you of the frequency that is most suitable for your case.
If you have never been checked for glaucoma, then you should go to your optometrist and start being checked by the age of 35 years. Early detection, through regular and complete eye exams, is the key to protecting your vision from damage caused by glaucoma.
Glaucoma cannot be cured, but in most cases it can be controlled successfully with treatment (eye drops, laser and/or surgery) and further loss of sight either prevented or slowed. If a person with glaucoma does not undergo treatment, their optic nerve may become progressively damaged. As a result, the peripheral (side) and eventually central vision, will deteriorate. Damaged vision due to glaucoma is irreversible and if left untreated may progress to blindness.
Unfortunately vision lost to optic nerve damage cannot be restored, it is permanent and irreversible. The aim of treatment is to reduce the risk of further glaucoma damage.
If you have a direct family member with glaucoma (parent, sibling, or child), you are at increased risk of developing glaucoma. This is because in many cases, glaucoma is an inherited (genetic) disease that is passed on within families.