What is Glaucoma?
by Lawrence J. Schwartz, M.D.
Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, M.D., Ph.d.
MedicineNet.com – Worldwide, glaucoma affects about 6 billion people and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. In fact, as many as 6 million individuals are blind in both eyes from this disease. In the United States alone, according to one estimate, over 3 million people have glaucoma. As many as half of the individuals with glaucoma, however, may not know that they have the disease. The reason they are unaware is that glaucoma initially causes no symptoms, and the loss of vision on the side (periphery) is hardly noticeable.
Glaucoma At A Glance
• Glaucoma is a disease that is often associated with elevated intraocular pressure, in which damage to the eye (optic) nerve can lead to loss of vision and even blindness.
• Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the world.
• Glaucoma usually causes no symptoms early in its course, at which time it can only be diagnosed by regular eye examinations (screenings with the frequency of examination based on age and the presence of other risk factors.
• Intraocular pressure increases when either too much fluid is produced in the eye or the drainage or outflow channels (trabecular meshwork) of the eye become blocked.
• While anyone can get glaucoma, some people are at greater risk.
• The two main types of glaucoma are open angle glaucoma, which has several variants and is a long duration (chronic) condition, and closed angle glaucoma, which is a sudden (acute) condition.
• Damage to the optic nerve and impairment of vision from glaucoma are irreversible.
• Several painless tests that determine the intraocular pressure, the status of the optic nerve and drainage angle, and visual fields are used to diagnose glaucoma.
• Glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops, although lasers and surgery can also be used. Most cases can be controlled well with these treatments, thereby preventing further loss of vision.
• Much research into the causes and treatment of glaucoma is being carried out throughout the world.
• Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to preserving sight in people with glaucoma.