Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially for older people. But loss of sight from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve—the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable containing numerous wires. When damage to the optic nerve fibers occurs, blind spots develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.
Your ophthalmologist or optometrist considers many kinds of information to determine your risk for developing the disease.
The most important risk factors include:
- Elevated eye pressure
- Family history of glaucoma
- African or Hispanic ancestry
- Farsightedness or nearsightedness
- Past eye injuries
- Thinner central corneal thickness
- Systematic health problems, including diabetes, migraine headaches, and poor circulation
Your ophthalmologist or optometrist will weigh all of these factors before deciding whether you need treatment for glaucoma, or whether you should be monitored closely as a glaucoma suspect. This means your risk of developing glaucoma is higher than normal, and you need to have regular examinations to detect the early signs of damage to the optic nerve.
Regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist or optometrist are the best way to detect glaucoma. A glaucoma screening that checks only the pressure of the eye is not sufficient to determine if you have glaucoma. The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have a complete eye examination.
Vision Affected by Glaucoma
As a rule, damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed. Eye drops, laser surgery and surgery in the operating room are used to help prevent further damage. In some cases, oral medications may also be prescribed. With any type of glaucoma, periodic examinations are very important to prevent vision loss.