Glaucoma is a condition of the eye where the optic nerve progressively degenerates. It is a disease that you can’t see it or feel its progression. It is often referred to as “the sneak thief of sight” because it insiduasely causes loss of vision from the periphery inward. Most people that can see the effects of glaucoma have lost the majority of their vision. The problem is that once the nerve tissue dies, we can’t get it back. This is why thorough exams and regular visits are vital for early detection and monitoring. The goal is to keep people from going down a path of vision loss and blindness.
For the longest time we believed that glaucoma was primarily a pressure disease. If the intro-ocular pressure was too high, it would damage the nerve and cause vision loss. The current belief is that pressure is not the defining factor in glaucoma. Patients can have low or normal pressure and still have glaucoma, whereas some could have high pressure and not have glaucoma. The concern is the optic nerve. If there is a progressive decline in tissue, then that is indicative of glaucoma. This is why we evaluate eye pressure and the optic nerve appearance in every annual examination of every patient.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults age 60 and over, but it can occur at any age. Vision loss progresses as the damage to the optic nerve progresses. Permanent vision loss will happen if glaucoma is not treated and the progressive damage is not halted.
Prevention of glaucoma or at least slowing its progression is essential in avoiding vision loss. If you are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma, regular dilated exams or optomap scans are needed. Taking any prescribed medication is critical if you have been diagnosed with glaucoma. You should also find out your family’s eye health history, as glaucoma can be hereditary. Other health conditions can predispose patients to develop glaucoma, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia.