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Glaucoma is not just one eye disease, but a group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, which may cause loss of vision. Glaucoma occurs when the internal pressure of the eyes increases enough to damage the nerve fibers in the optic nerve and cause vision loss. The optic nerve is the key to our sight. It is composed of around one million individual nerve fibers and transmits visual signals from the eye to brain. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Glaucoma can damage your vision so gradually you may not notice any loss of vision until the disease is at an advanced stage.

The most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, has no noticeable signs or symptoms except gradual vision loss of side vision. It is related to an increase in fluid pressure around the eye.

Acute angle-closure glaucoma occurs less often than primary open-angle glaucoma. A rapid increase of eye pressure occurs abruptly and causes this type of glaucoma. If you experience sudden eye pain, nausea, redness in the eye, visions of colored rings around lights or blurred vision, seek medical attention immediately. Unlike the type of glaucoma described above, this type can cause severe vision loss quickly.

While some eye diseases, glaucoma does not currently have a cure. Early detection and treatment is key for maintaining control over glaucoma. At least half of the people with glaucoma do not know they have it. The doctors of Cataract & Laser Institute recommend regular check-ups with your eye doctor in order to maintain good eye health.

What causes glaucoma and who is at risk?

The exact cause of glaucoma is unknown; however, some theories propose that it could be related to inadequate blood supply to the optic nerve. Primary open-angle glaucoma supports this theory, but others exist. For example, another theory is that the eye’s drainage system becomes inefficient once a patient reaches a certain age.

Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the drainage angle in the eye closes or is blocked. The drainage angle is formed by the cornea and the iris. Aqueous fluid is blocked from flowing out of the drainage system due to natural aging of the eye. The lens in the eye gets larger with age, which makes the space between the iris and cornea narrower. Angle-closure glaucoma can appear suddenly or progress over time.

Secondary glaucoma is caused by outside factors, including injuries and other eye diseases. Eye surgery is sometimes necessary to correct it. Normal-tension glaucoma involves damage of the optic nerve, at a lower or "normal" eye pressure.

Common risk factors for glaucoma include:
  • Race: African Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians and are more likely to suffer permanent vision loss. Patients of Asian descent have a higher risk of developing angle-closure glaucoma or low-tension glaucoma. 
  • Family history. 
  • Age: People over the age of 60 are more likely to get glaucoma. African Americans over the age of 40 begin to have an increase in risk. 
  • Physical eye injuries: An increase in eye pressure, a dislocated lens, or a closed drainage angle can be caused by external factors, like a hit to the eye. 
  • Eye anatomy and other eye diseases: Some patients have a thinner cornea than others, which can be a risk factor. Other eye issues like tumors, inflammation, and severe nearsightedness can heighten the risk of developing glaucoma. 
  • Corticosteroids: If a patient has used corticosteroids for a prolonged period of time, they could possibly be at a higher risk to develop glaucoma. 

What are the symptoms of glaucoma and how is it diagnosed?

The majority of glaucoma cases involve no symptoms until peripheral vision and the optic nerve are greatly affected. However, there are many ways to diagnose glaucoma through testing including tonometry, pupil dilation, pachymetry, optic nerve imaging, patient history, supplemental testing, visual acuity measurements, and visual field testing.

How is glaucoma treated?

Medications are available to treat glaucoma. They are intended to reduce elevated eye pressure and can be prescribed as one medication or a combination. Like any other medication, they can cause side effects so the patient is closely monitored in case any changes in the prescriptions are needed.

SLT is a form of treatment for glaucoma that lowers intraocular pressure by 30%, which is comparable to the result of the most powerful and commonly used class of glaucoma medication.

Cataract & Laser Institute was the first in the region to acquire and incorporate both Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) testing to detect and monitor glaucoma and Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) to treat the disease.

OCT scanning is similar to a CT or CAT scan of the eye, and may allow detection of glaucoma up to 10 years earlier than by other means.

OCT, along with digital optic nerve photography and Humphrey Visual Field Analysis, provide the medical staff and doctors of Cataract & Laser Institute with the tools necessary to provide state-of-the-art, comprehensive glaucoma care.

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