What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside the eye is higher than the optic nerve can tolerate. This causes gradual damage to the individual nerve fibers that make up the optic nerve. Vision can be affected when sufficient nerve fibers have been compromised or lost, first involving peripheral vision and later affecting central vision. Most people do not experience any symptoms even if the pressure in the eye is very high, which is why Glaucoma has been referred to as a "the silent thief of sight." Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide. Additionally, glaucoma is the second most common cause of legal blindness in the United States, and is the leading cause of legal blindness in African-Americans. Approximately two million Americans have Glaucoma and half of them are unaware that they have the disease.
Who is at risk?
Everyone should be concerned about glaucoma and its effects. It is important for each of us, from infants to senior citizens, to have our eyes checked regularly because early detection and treatment of glaucoma are the only ways to prevent vision impairment and blindness. There are several conditions related to this disease which tend to put some people at greater risk such as: age over 45, near-sightedness, diabetes, race (people of African descent), history of glaucoma in an immediate relative, history of prior serious eye injury, systemic hypertension (high blood pressure), history of long term steroid/cortisone use, or abnormally high eye pressure.
How often should I have my eyes examined for Glaucoma?
If you have any of the risk factors associated with Glaucoma, it is important to have a comprehensive eye examination every year.
How is Glaucoma detected?
The only way to detect Glaucoma is through a comprehensive eye examination with particular attention to intraocular pressure and to the appearance of the optic nerve. Visual Field Testing is used to evaluate optic nerves which are suspicious in appearance for glaucoma as well as to monitor for disease progression in eyes diagnosed with glaucoma. A more recent technology, available at the Erdey Searcy Eye Group, is often used to help detect damage to the optic nerve as early as six years before traditional methods.
Our center was one of the first to acquire advanced technology, using a scanning laser to take a special picture of the optic nerve which is then analyzed to detect early signs of damage caused by Glaucoma. We currently routinely utilize next generation OCT imaging.
How is Glaucoma treated?
Once the diagnosis of Glaucoma is established, the goal is to lower the pressure in the eye to a certain level. The three methods to do this include medication (eye drops), laser treatment which permits the "drain" of the eye to function more efficiently, and surgery which creates a new "drain" to increase fluid flow out of the eye. Many patients will not have further loss of vision if they are monitored regularly and if the pressure is lowered sufficiently.