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Glaucoma Overview

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, leading to vision loss or even blindness. Open-angle glaucoma is  the most common form of the disease.

At the front of the eye is a small space called the anterior chamber. Clear fluid flows in and out of the chamber to bathe and nourish nearby tissues. For unknown reasons, glaucoma results in the fluid draining too slowly out of the eye. As the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises. Unless this pressure is controlled, it may cause damage to the optic nerve at the optic cup and the retina. This results in vision loss.

Nearly 3 million people have glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Although anyone can get glaucoma, some people are at higher risk. They include:

  • African-Americans.
  • Anyone over the age of 40.
  • People with a family history of glaucoma.

At first, there are no symptoms. Vision stays normal, and there is no pain. However, as the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma may notice his or her side vision gradually failing. Meaning objects in front may still be seen clearly, but objects to the side may be missed. As the disease worsens, the field of vision narrows and blindness results. Although open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured, it can usually be controlled.

Treatment

Medications, either eye drops or pills, are designed to reduce pressure by slowing the flow of fluid into the eye. Some are designed to help improve fluid drainage. For most people with glaucoma, regular use of medications will control the increased fluid pressure.

Another option is laser surgery. During laser surgery, a strong beam of light is focused on the part of the anterior chamber where the fluid leaves the eye. This results in a series of small changes which makes it easier for fluid to exit the eye. Over time, the effect of laser surgery may wear off. Patients who have this form of surgery may need to keep taking glaucoma drugs.

Surgery can also help fluid escape from the eye and thereby reduce the pressure. However, surgery is usually reserved for patients whose pressure cannot be adequately controlled with eye drops, pills, or laser surgery.