Eye Health Care and Tips

What is Glaucoma Eye Disease that Affects the Optic Nerve?

Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 09:13 am

Glaucoma is a condition (eye disease) that affects the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss. It is often caused by an increase in pressure in the eye.

What Causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma, an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Glaucoma can develop in anyone, but some groups of people are at a higher risk. These include African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asians.

There are different types of glaucoma, but the most common is primary open-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma develops gradually over time and usually has no early warning signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s important to have regular comprehensive dilated eye exams, so your eye care professional can detect glaucoma before vision loss occurs.

Other risk factors for glaucoma include a family history of the disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, previous eye injury or surgery, long-term use of certain steroids (prednisone), and other health conditions such as migraine headaches and sleep apnea.

What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma has no symptoms in its early stages. In fact, half the people with glaucoma do not know they have it! Having regular eye exams can help your ophthalmologist find this disease before you lose vision. Your ophthalmologist can tell you how often you should be examined.

What is Glaucoma Suspects?

Some people have no signs of damage but have higher than normal eye pressure (called ocular hypertension). These patients are considered “glaucoma suspects” and have a higher risk of eventually developing glaucoma. Some people are considered glaucoma suspects even if their eye pressure is normal. For example, their ophthalmologist may notice something different about their optic nerve. Most glaucoma suspects have no symptoms. That is why you need to be carefully monitored by your ophthalmologist if you are a glaucoma suspect. An ophthalmologist can check for any changes over time and begin treatment if needed.

What are the Types of Glaucoma?

There are several different types of glaucoma, all of which involve damage to the optic nerve. The most common type is primary open-angle glaucoma, which affects approximately 3 million Americans. This type of glaucoma develops slowly and painlessly, and can eventually lead to blindness if not treated.

Other types of glaucoma include closed-angle glaucoma, normal-tension glaucoma, congenital glaucoma, and secondary glaucoma. Closed-angle glaucoma is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment; if left untreated, it can cause permanent vision loss. Normal-tension glaucoma is less common than other types and is often difficult to diagnose because it does not exhibit the same symptoms as other forms of glaucoma.

Congenital glaucoma is a rare condition that is present at birth or develops in infancy; it is usually treated successfully with surgery. Secondary glaucoma refers to any type of glaucoma that is caused by another condition, such as diabetes or an eye injury.

Can Glaucoma be Cured?

Glaucoma is a progressive disease that damages the optic nerve, the cable that connects the eye to the brain and transmits images. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.

There is no cure for glaucoma, but early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or slow vision loss. Glaucoma medical treatment usually involves prescription eye drops to lower intraocular pressure (IOP), surgery to relieve pressure on the optic nerve, or a combination of both.

Who is at Risk for Glaucoma?

Some people have a higher than normal risk of getting glaucoma. This includes people who:

  • are over age 40
  • have family members with glaucoma
  • are of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage
  • have high eye pressure
  • are farsighted or nearsighted
  • have had an eye injury
  • use long-term steroid medications
  • have corneas that are thin in the center
  • have thinning of the optic nerve
  • have diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation or other health problems affecting the whole body

Talk with an ophthalmologist about your risk for getting glaucoma. People with more than one of these risk factors have an even higher risk of glaucoma.

How to Diagnose Glaucoma?

The only sure way to diagnose glaucoma is with a complete eye exam. A glaucoma screening that only checks eye pressure is not enough to find glaucoma. During a glaucoma exam, your ophthalmologist will:

  • measure your eye pressure
  • inspect your eye’s drainage angle
  • examine your optic nerve for damage
  • test your peripheral (side) vision
  • take a picture or computer measurement of your optic nerve
  • measure the thickness of your cornea
Can Glaucoma be Stopped?

Glaucoma damage is permanent. It cannot be reversed. But medicine and surgery help to stop further damage. To treat glaucoma, your ophthalmologist may use one or more of the treatment methods.

What medicine used to treat Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is usually controlled with eyedrop medicine. Used every day, these eye drops lower eye pressure. Some do this by reducing the amount of aqueous fluid the eye makes. Others reduce pressure by helping fluid flow better through the drainage angle.
Glaucoma medications can help you keep your vision, but they may also produce side effects.

Is laser Surgery Used to Treat Glaucoma?

There are two main types of laser surgery to treat glaucoma. They help aqueous drain from the eye. These procedures are usually done in the ophthalmologist’s clinic or an outpatient eye surgery hospital.
1) Trabeculoplasty. This surgery is for people who have open-angle glaucoma and can be used instead of or in addition to medications. The eye surgeon uses a laser to make the drainage angle work better. That way fluid flows out properly and eye pressure is reduced.
2) Iridotomy. This is for people who have angle-closure glaucoma. The ophthalmologist uses a laser to create a tiny hole in the iris. This hole helps fluid flow to the drainage angle.

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