Glaucoma is an eye disease in which progressive damage to the optic nerve occurs due to elevated intraocular pressure. It is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in loss of vision (classically peripheral or side vision is affected first). The optic nerve is a bundle of about one million individual nerve fibers that transmits the visual signals from the eye to the brain. Advanced glaucoma may even cause complete blindness. Not everyone with high eye pressure will develop glaucoma, and many people with normal eye pressure will develop glaucoma. When the pressure inside an eye is too high for that particular optic nerve, whatever that pressure measurement may be, glaucoma will develop.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. The most common form of glaucoma, primary open angle glaucoma, can develop gradually and painlessly, without symptoms. Other forms of glaucoma occur rapidly and can cause nausea, blurred vision and red eyes.
Vision loss due to glaucoma cannot be restored. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for people at risk for glaucoma. It most often occurs in people over age 40, although a congenital or infantile form of glaucoma exists. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans over the age of 40, and Hispanics over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. Other risk factors include thinner corneas, chronic eye inflammation, and using medications that increase the pressure in the eyes.
Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early it can usually be controlled. Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops to lower the pressure in the eye. In some cases, laser treatment surgery may be needed in order to reduce eye pressure. During your comprehensive eye examination, a tonometry test to measure the pressure of your eyes will be performed, peripheral vision and optic nerve health will all be assessed.