Referred to as ‘the silent thief of sight,’ this blinding disease has no outward or visual symptoms. It occurs when the pressure of fluid inside the eye exceeds the pressure of the blood supply entering the eye. Over time, this slowly damages the optic nerve, resulting in loss of sensitivity of side vision. Because it occurs slowly, vision changes are not noticed until too late to treat.
Q: What causes glaucoma?
A: We don’t yet understand the exact mechanism, but we do know that most risk factors are genetic. There are certain types of glaucoma related to injury and systemic disease, but they are far less common than regular “open-angle” glaucoma. We used to think measurement of eye pressure was a measure of glaucoma risk. We now know that less than 50% of glaucoma is associated with high eye pressure. It is a complex disease with risk factors that include race, gender, age, eye anatomy, diabetes, high myopia and more. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to prevent glaucoma. Routine annual eye exams are your best defense (especially if you have an immediate family history) in early detection and treatment.
Q: What will I notice if I have glaucoma?
A: Glaucoma has no pain, blurry vision, or noticeable vision loss until it’s end stage. It causes a very slow, gradual loss of nerve fibers, usually those involved with your side (peripheral) vision first. Even using sophisticated side vision testing equipment, vision losses are only evident when 70% of a nerve bundle is damaged. Treatment at this late stage means AT BEST we can only save 30% of your remaining nerve. However, using modern diagnostic imaging equipment (OCT), we can detect nerve losses as small as 5%, allowing for early treatment to reduce eye pressure and prevent further damage. Treatment is usually as simple as an eye drop every night.
Q: How long do I have to take eye drops for the treatment of glaucoma?
A: Treatment is life long. If the nerve stays stable with no progressive damage, it may be just a drop at night for the rest of your life. If damage continues to progress, we either switch to, or add a different class of medicated eye drop. In more advanced cases we will refer you for laser surgery or microsurgery to further reduce eye pressure. When diagnosed and treated early, prognosis for good vision remains high.