Nearly two and a half million Americans have open angle glaucoma with the majority of them unaware of this problem because this condition usually presents no symptoms. It is very difficult to define clear-cut risk factors for glaucoma, however some include being African American, increasing age, nearsightedness, males greater than females and family history of glaucoma. Elevated intraocular pressure in the eye occurs in five to ten million Americans, but only about 10% of such people develop glaucoma due to this pressure. In some cases, elevated intraocular pressure can be normal.
What is Glaucoma? Glaucoma is defined as a disease of the optic nerve, in which the nerve fibers are injured, usually, but not always, by abnormally increased intraocular pressure (IOP). Open angle and closed angle glaucoma are the two primary forms of glaucoma. In rare circumstances, a person may have a combination of the two. Another common form of glaucoma is known as normotensive glaucoma, in which damage occurs to the optic nerve but the IOP is normal or even low. There are many more forms of glaucoma, ranging from congenital glaucoma (babies born with the disease) to pigmentary glaucoma. To further complicate the disease, approximately 10% of Americans have high intraocular pressure but do not have glaucoma…a condition called ocular hypertension. These individuals, however, are considered to be at risk for glaucoma.
To understand how this disrupts the normal processes of a person’s sight, it must first be explained how we see. Light passes through the cornea, the clear tissue at the front of the eye. Directly behind the cornea is the iris…the colored tissue of the eye, which opens and closes like a camera shutter to regulate the passage of light. The lens is located behind the iris, it focuses the light which then hits the retina…a fragile electrical membrane of nerve cells that receives light. The retina translates light into signals that are sent to the optic nerve. This nerve is a cable of about 1.2 million nerve fibers that transmit signals from the eye to the brain, which then interpret these signals into images. The eye is also composed of two fluid filled chambers. These chambers are responsible for nourishing the area around the colored iris and behind the cornea, and exert pressure to help maintain the eye’s shape. Aqueous fluid is continuously produced within the front of the eye itself causing pressure within the eye, known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Normal pressure is usually maintained at measurements of 10 to 20 mm Hg. To offset the inflowing fluid and to maintain normal IOP, the fluid drains out between the iris and the cornea.
Glaucoma treatments focus on lowering intraocular pressure. If the fluid system stays balanced, the pressure in the eye stays normal. If the drain becomes blocked, the fluid cannot leave the eye, and the IOP increases. Prescription medications, usually in the form of eye drops, and can lower IOP are used as treatments. Lowering the IOP is the main goal in the treatment of glaucoma.
Glaucoma, which can cause blindness, usually has no warning signs. Not knowing you have glaucoma is the greatest risk. Simple tests done by your eye doctor can diagnose glaucoma early and help slow or stop further loss of vision. Early treatment with medications, laser treatment, surgery, or combination of these can nearly always maintain safe pressure preventing optic nerve damage and blindness.
The most important part of glaucoma treatment is you, the patient. Become aware and learn about glaucoma and how it is treated. The more information you know the more successful the treatment. It is not always necessary to see a glaucoma specialist for diagnosis, many ophthalmologists are also very well educated and trained to handle glaucoma treatments as well. If you think you may have glaucoma or even suspect that your eye pressures are high, simply call your eye physician’s office and schedule an appointment.
Susskind & Almallah Eye Associates, PA
20 Mule Rd.
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 349-5622 Ext. 37