What is glaucoma?

Created on: Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness both in the US and worldwide.  Over three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half of them know that they have it according to the American Optometric Association.   Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve (the connection from the eye to the brain).  There are several different types of glaucoma, and although high eye pressure can often lead to the disease, not everyone with high pressure will get glaucoma.  It is also possible to get glaucoma without having high eye pressure, a condition called normal tension glaucoma.  Unfortunately, most people with glaucoma have no symptoms until the later stages.  Once vision is lost from the disease it cannot be restored.

Who is at the highest risk for glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma, but some people are at higher risk than others.  Risk factors include:

  • Age: people over 60 (although it can be diagnosed at any age)

  • Race: African Americans are three times as likely to be affected compared to Caucasians

  • Family History: people with a close relative who has glaucoma

  • Medical conditions: people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease are at higher risk

  • History of severe eye trauma

  • Steroid use: prolonged use of corticosteroids can increase risk

How is glaucoma detected?

Because early glaucoma usually has no symptoms, the best way to detect it is with a comprehensive eye exam.  Your eye doctor will look at measurements such as your eye pressure and the appearance of your optic nerve and determine if additional testing may be needed.  Visual field testing may be done to measure peripheral vision, and OCT (optical coherence tomography) may be done to measure the thickness of the tissue around the optic nerve.  Gonioscopy can be done to look at how the fluid drains from the eye, and pachymetry can be done to measure the thickness of the cornea.  Photos may also be taken of the retina and optic nerve.  Once this testing is complete, the doctor will analyze all of this information to determine if you have glaucoma.

How is glaucoma treated?

Prescription eye drops are the most common method used to treat glaucoma, however sometimes laser treatment or surgery is also used.  The goal of these treatments is to lower the pressure in the eye to prevent further damage to the optic nerve.  The earlier glaucoma is detected by your eye doctor, the easier it is to limit or prevent further vision loss.  If you haven’t had an eye exam recently, now is a great time to schedule an appointment to check for signs of glaucoma as well other eye diseases.


 By: Dr. Ashley Herde, OD