Understanding Glaucoma and Its Risk Factors

Written by eHealth Navigator

Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve and is one of the leading causes of blindness.  Approximately 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, and it is expected by the year 2020 an estimated 2.4 million people will have the disease.

There are two types of glaucoma.  All eyes have a certain pressure that is necessary to maintain proper eye health.  Glaucoma can roughly be broken down into two types: open-angle and angle-closure.  Both generally involve a high eye pressure.  Open-angle glaucoma tends to be slowly progressive and chronic; while angle-closure may develop more rapidly and can be painful.

It is important to know if you are at risk for glaucoma.  Risk factors include high intraocular pressure (IOP), race (African-Americans are six to eight times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians), being 60 or older, a family history of glaucoma, corticosteroid use, thin corneas, a history of eye injury, diabetes, myopia (nearsightedness), sleep apnea, and high blood pressure.

Most people have no symptoms, and there may be no warning signs.  This is because peripheral vision is lost first.  Only in advanced glaucoma is central vision affected.  And once optic-nerve damage occurs, it is permanent and irreversible.  That makes it imperative to have regular dilated eye exams to detect optic nerve damage.  Your doctor will perform various tests to evaluate the health of the eye and the optic nerve. 

Once diagnosed the treatment options include eye drops, oral medication, laser surgery and incisional surgery.  The treatment chosen depends on the type of glaucoma and the severity of the disease.  The goal of treatment is to lower the IOP to an acceptable level, at which point the risk of progression is decreased.  If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, treatment can help maintain optic nerve health, which ultimately preserves vision.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 2 April 2013 3:09PM