January 17, 2017

Understanding Glaucoma, the 'Silent Thief of Sight'

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about this leading cause of preventable blindness that provides little to no warning signs.

Glaucoma is an eye condition most often thought of as affecting the elderly or people of increasing age. But there are a number of factors that can cause a person to be more susceptible to developing glaucoma, at any age.

As we've reviewed in a previous post, experiencing elevated eye pressure or having a previous eye injury can increase your risk for developing glaucoma. Too, if you have family members with the condition, this family history puts you at a greater risk. And you must also consider your heritage. African Americans are genetically more at risk for developing glaucoma as are Hispanic ethnicities.

What is glaucoma?

Our optic nerve is a part of the eye that sends information to our brain. Glaucoma results when there is slow, progressive damage to this optic nerve that leads to a gradual loss of vision. Left untreated, it can result in blindness. The condition gets its 'silent thief of sight' label because there are usually few to no noticeable symptoms until vision loss becomes known. Glaucoma is not curable, and vision loss cannot be regained. However, most varieties of glaucoma can be controlled and treated through prescription eye drops, laser treatments, and/or microsurgery. Let's briefly break down the main types:
  • Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form, occurring when the eye's drainage canals clog, resulting in an increase of intraocular pressure, or pressure inside the eye. It's called 'open-angle' because the entrances to the drainage canals are clear, open and generally work correctly. The problem resides further inside the drainage canals. Open-angle glaucoma development is slow, with no warning signs or symptoms.
  • Closed-angle glaucoma (also known as acute glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma) is widely different and is less common than open-angle glaucoma. Here, eye pressure typically rises rapidly due to blocked drainage canals. With closed-angle glaucoma, the space between the iris and the drain is not as wide and open as it should be. Symptoms and damage-headaches, eye pain, nausea, blurry vision and rainbow halos around lights-are very noticeable with closed-angle glaucoma, demanding immediate medical attention.
  • Normal-tension glaucoma results when a person's optic nerve shows damage even though the pressure in the eye is not very high. Family history poses a higher risk for normal-tension glaucoma as does having a Japanese ancestry.
  • Finally, secondary glaucoma can result when another eye condition causes or contributes to increased eye pressure-an eye injury, inflammation, tumor, certain drugs or advanced cases of cataract or diabetes. The type of treatment for secondary glaucoma depends on its cause.
If you are over the age of 30 and have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with your family eye doctor every year. Your doctor will test your vision and examine your eyes through dilated pupils, looking for signs of various eye conditions or diseases such as glaucoma. Wolfe Eye Clinic has expertise in evaluating and treating glaucoma. Contact us to ask any glaucoma-related questions or to schedule an appointment with one of our glaucoma specialists: Dr. Benjamin Mason, Dr. John Trible or Dr. Ryan Vincent.