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Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disorder in which the optic nerve suffers damage, permanently damaging vision in the affected eye(s) and progressing to complete blindness if untreated. It is often, but not always, associated with increased pressure of the fluid in the eye. The term 'ocular hypertension' is used for cases having constantly raised intraocular pressure (IOP) without any associated optic nerve damage. Conversely, the term 'normal' or 'low tension glaucoma' is suggested for the typical visual field defects when associated with a normal or low IOP.

The nerve damage involves loss of retinal ganglion cells in a characteristic pattern. There are many different subtypes of glaucoma, but they can all be considered a type of optic neuropathy. Raised intraocular pressure is a significant risk factor for developing glaucoma (above 21 mmHg or 2.8 kPa). One person may develop nerve damage at a relatively low pressure, while another person may have high eye pressure for years and yet never develop damage. Untreated glaucoma leads to permanent damage of the optic nerve and resultant visual field loss, which can progress to blindness.

Normal Vision
Glaucoma affected vision

Glaucoma can be divided roughly into two main categories, "open angle" and "closed angle" glaucoma. Closed angle glaucoma can appear suddenly and is often painful; visual loss can progress quickly, but the discomfort often leads patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs. Open angle, chronic glaucoma tends to progress at a slower rate and patients may not notice they have lost vision until the disease has progressed significantly.

Glaucoma has been nicknamed the "silent thief of sight" because the loss of vision normally occurs gradually over a long period of time, and is often recognized only when the disease is quite advanced. Once lost, this damaged visual field cannot be recovered. Worldwide, it is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts. It is also the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. Glaucoma affects one in 200 people aged fifty and younger, and one in 10 over the age of eighty. If the condition is detected early enough, it is possible to arrest the development or slow the progression with medical and surgical means.