Overview of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. In the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. Experts estimate that half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.
Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.
There is no cure for glaucoma—yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.
It was once thought that high pressure within the eye, also known as intraocular pressure or IOP, is the main cause of this optic nerve damage. Although IOP is clearly a risk factor, we now know that other factors must also be involved because even people with “normal” levels of pressure can experience vision loss from glaucoma.
Anyone can develop glaucoma. Some people are at higher risk than others. They include:
• African Americans and Mexican Americans over the age of 40
• Everyone over age 60
• People with a family history of glaucoma
Among African Americans, studies show that glaucoma is:
• Five times more likely to occur in African Americans than in Caucasians
• About four times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans than in Caucasians
• Fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans between the ages of 45-64 than in Caucasians of the same age group.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam can reveal more risk factors, such as high eye pressure, thinness of the cornea, and abnormal optic nerve anatomy. In some people with certain combinations of these high-risk factors, medicines in the form of eyedrops reduce the risk of developing glaucoma by about half.
Medicare covers an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam for some people at high risk for glaucoma.
For more information about glaucoma visit:
The Glaucoma Foundation website at www.glaucoma.org
The National Eye Institute at www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/