What You Need to Know About Glaucoma
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Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases caused by atrophy of the optic nerve, which can lead to irreversible vision loss.
A clear fluid, called aqueous humor, fills the front of your eye and provides nourishment to the tissues. Like the air in a balloon, the aqueous also provides pressure to help maintain the shape of the eye.
In most types of glaucoma, the eye’s natural drainage system loses function and the fluid inside the eye cannot drain. This lack of drainage causes an elevation of pressure within the eye. This increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) has demonstrated the ability to exert pressure on the optic nerve and result in vision loss.
Most forms of glaucoma produce no symptoms until vision loss is so great that it affects the quality of life of the individual. Because glaucoma tends to be silent, it is referred to as "the sneaky thief of sight.” It is estimated that 2.5 million Americans have glaucoma and half are unaware that they have the disease. Approximately 130,000 Americans are currently blind from glaucoma. It is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide. A number of important risk factors for glaucoma have been identified including elevated eye pressure, family history, race and age.
Glaucoma can be grouped into two major categories:
- Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for ~ 90% of all cases. It exhibits few symptoms, if any, until it reaches an advanced stage
- Angle-closure glaucoma is less common but more severe, and is marked with a rapid rise in eye pressure and severe vision loss
People at the highest risk of getting glaucoma:
- Adults over 60 are 6 times more likely to have glaucoma than the general population
- African-Americans are 6 to 8 times more likely than Caucasians to have glaucoma
- People with a family history of glaucoma or diabetes are at greater risk for glaucoma
- About 800,000 Americans 40 to 50 years of age have elevated IOP from glaucoma
- Approximately 2,000,000 Americans over 70 have elevated IOP from glaucoma
Since glaucoma comes with few warning signs, regular eye exams are essential for detecting glaucoma early enough to allow successful treatment
- A routine glaucoma exam usually includes a test to measure pressure and an examination of the inside of the eye, primarily the optic nerve
- A visual field test may be used to monitor peripheral vision, helping the doctor determine the extent of vision loss and the effectiveness of treatment
- Medications are the most common form of glaucoma treatment today. Approximately 50% of glaucoma patients are on two or more medications to reduce IOP.
- There are many penetrating surgical or laser interventions that have the common characteristic of lowering IOP with different degrees of success and permanently damaging the anatomic structures of the eye. These include: trabeculectomy, iridectomy, iridotomy, laser trabeculoplasty and glaucoma implant procedures.
- Canaloplasty is the newest non-penetrating interventional procedure today that does not permanently alter the anatomy of the eye and leaves all other treatment options available if needed.
Ochsner offers the latest available treatments and participates in several research programs. Because glaucoma tends to be chronic and progressive, most individuals with glaucoma require lifelong and regular monitoring of their disease process, which involves intraocular pressure measurements and evaluation of the optic nerve head and visual field status. The physicians in Ochsner's Glaucoma Section specialize in the care of individuals with this chronic vision threatening disease and offer the latest techniques in diagnosis and management. In addition, we are actively engaged in teaching and provide opportunities for patients to participate in important glaucoma research programs.