Glaucoma is an eye disease in which fluid pressure inside the eye builds up, causing loss of peripheral vision and eventually blindness. It affects approximately three million Americans, and is a leading cause of blindness among adults in the United States. It is estimated that one out of every seven blind people is a victim of glaucoma.
Studies show that African Americans have a particularly high risk for glaucoma:
It is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and occurs about five times more often in African Americans than in Caucasians
African Americans between the ages of 45-65 are 15 times more likely to become blind from glaucoma than Caucasians of the same age group
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, progressing slowly and painlessly. Acute types of glaucoma strike suddenly, affecting vision more quickly and sometimes involving severe pain; but early detection and treatment can prevent irreversible blindness.
What causes glaucoma?
In a normal eye, a clear, nutrient-rich fluid flows continuously through the eye to bathe and nourish the lens and cornea, and then drains from the eye through a complex channel system called the trabecular meshwork. In open-angle glaucoma:
Fluid drains out of the eye too slowly
Fluid pressure inside the eye rises
The elevated pressure can damage the optic nerve, leading to tunnel vision and blindness
Who is most likely to get glaucoma?
Anyone can get glaucoma, though it rarely strikes people under the age of 35. People who are at the highest risk for glaucoma include:
African Americans over the age of 40
Anyone over the age of 60
People with a family history of glaucoma
What are the symptoms?
Most people who have open-angle glaucoma don’t notice any symptoms until they begin to lose their sight. As glaucoma advances, it slowly begins to destroy peripheral vision. Left untreated, the field of vision continues to narrow and the disease eventually leads to blindness. Unfortunately, vision loss caused by glaucoma cannot be restored.
How is glaucoma detected?
Glaucoma is found most often during a dilated eye exam, in which an eye care professional places medicated drops in the eye to enlarge the pupil, providing a better view inside the eye to check for signs of disease. Other tests include:
Tonometry - the standard test to measure fluid pressure in the eye
Perimetry - a visual field test that allows the eye care professional to detect any loss of peripheral vision
Nerve fiber analysis - a test that measures the health of the nerve fiber layer of the retina
“Clarkson detected my development of glaucoma.
I really appreciate the advanced technology in the equipment [used for] eye exams.” - Delena W.
How can glaucoma be treated?
There is no cure for glaucoma, but it can be controlled. Treatment is aimed at lowering the eye’s fluid pressure, which slows the disease’s progression. The most common treatments are:
Medications - eye drops that can reduce pressure by improving fluid drainage or slowing fluid formation
Laser surgery - targeting the eye’s drainage meshwork, allowing better fluid drainage
Trabeculectomy - a surgery, reserved for advanced glaucoma and patients who do not respond to other treatments, which allows for better drainage by creating a tiny hole in the wall of the eye
Over time, medications may stop working or the effects of surgery may wear off. In these cases, patients and their eye care professionals may need to discuss other treatment options.
What can be done to protect vision?
Researchers are working to find ways to prevent glaucoma and improve its diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, regular comprehensive eye exams will allow for early detection and treatment of the disease and provide excellent odds for maintaining vision.