Glaucoma is a disease that causes permanent vision loss and and even blindness. It is also called the ‘Sneak-Thief of Sight’ because we don’t feel glaucoma. We would like to help you better understand glaucoma and we want to separate fact from fiction.
Let’s start with a little anatomy lesson. The Retina is the special tissue in the back of the eye, and its job is to capture light and turn it to an electrical signal. The “wires” connect to form the Optic Nerve. The optic nerve sends the signal to the brain. There are many parts of the brain that the optic nerve connects to.
Glaucoma Facts vs. Myths
MYTH 1: Glaucoma is a single disease
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases; the most common ones are Open-Angle glaucoma (OAG) and Angle-Closure glaucoma (ACG).
Glaucoma is not cancer. When we say a “group” of diseases, it is somewhat similar to “cancer” because just like there are many forms of cancer, there are different types of glaucoma
In Open-Angle glaucoma, the drainage structure in your eye (called the trabecular meshwork) doesn’t allow the fluid inside the eye to flow out as it should. That causes an increase in internal ocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. Again, you don’t feel this extra pressure. Open Angle Glaucoma develops slowly. Usually by the time people are aware of it, they have lost their side vision (peripheral vision loss) because of the damage to the optic nerve
In Narrow-Angle Glaucoma, also known as Angle-Closure Glaucoma, the fluid in the eye does not drain out because the drainage channel between the iris and cornea is too narrow. This pressure damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. ACG can occur suddenly or gradually.
MYTH 2: Only the elderly suffer from glaucoma
Although it’s true that people over 60 are at a greater risk of developing open-angle glaucoma compared to people in their 40s, there are other types of glaucoma that can affect people aged 20 to 50 and even young infants.
In addition to age, those with a higher risk of developing glaucoma include:
- African Americans and Hispanics
- Individuals with a family history of glaucoma
- Patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia
- Those who have previously sustained an eye injury
- People taking steroid medications over the long term
MYTH 3: Glaucoma shows symptoms early on
The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, has almost no signs or symptoms until its later stages when vision loss sets in. Higher eye pressure causes no pain. Glaucoma affects peripheral vision (side vision) is the beginning, so it is hard to notice these changes until someone is far into the disease. Nerve damage is permanent and is impossible to regain. The only way to detect glaucoma is to undergo a comprehensive eye exam.
MYTH 4: Nothing can be done once you have glaucoma
Similar to Diabetes and High Blood Pressure, Glaucoma is controlled but not cured. The first line treatment for glaucoma is eye drop medications, and at times, laser and surgical procedures. These treatment options reduce the pressure in the eye and decreasing damage to the optic nerve.
MYTH 5: Testing for glaucoma is painful
Actually, testing for glaucoma is practically painless. In our office we measure the Visual Field and use a special scan of the nerve, called an OCT (optical coherence tomography). Other tests are done to determine if treatment is needed or if monitoring is the best course of action.
MYTH 6: You can’t prevent glaucoma
The good news is that a yearly comprehensive eye exams can prevent glaucoma by early diagnosis and treatment. In our office, Family Eye Care in Old Bridge this is this is part of every examination. We would be happy to help you. Please consider calling our office to schedule for your comprehensive eye exam.