Glaucoma, the Silent Thief of Sight

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports approximately 2.2 million Americans over the age of 40 have glaucoma.

More than half do not realize they have glaucoma as often there are no warning symptoms. Glaucoma slowly and silently steals your sight without notice.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve which carries images seen to the brain. Elevated ocular pressure puts you at greater risk for optic nerve damage or blindness.

Elevated pressure in the eye may occur when the drainage area of the aqueous humor (drainage angle) is blocked causing the excess fluid not to flow out of the eye.  The trapped fluid pushes against the optic nerve damaging the optic nerve fibers.

How is glaucoma detected?

Glaucoma is best detected on complete eye-health examinations with your ophthalmologist.

Do not mistake glaucoma screenings, which only check the intraocular pressure of the eye, as sufficient for diagnosing glaucoma.

At Burlington Eye Associates, our complete eye health examination includes:

Tonometry – measurement of intraocular pressure

Gonioscopy – visual inspection of the eye’s drainage angle

Ophthalmoscopy or HRT (Retinal Tomography), and/or Fundus Photography –
diagnose optic nerve for damage

Visual Field – test peripheral vision of each eye individually

What are the different types of glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma:
Open-angle glaucoma is most closely associated with heredity. It is also considered the most common type of glaucoma in the United States and occurs when the drainage system of the eye does not allow fluid to escape fast enough to off set the production of new fluid in the eye. This allows pressure to increase in the eye, resulting in gradual damage to the optic nerve.  Because the increase of pressure is so subtle, symptoms of open-angle glaucoma can often go unnoticed for years, giving this glaucoma the distinction of the ‘silent-thief’ of sight. The only known symptom of open-angle glaucoma is the slow and subtle disappearance of peripheral vision.

Closed-angle glaucoma:
Closed-angle glaucoma is the most serious form of glaucoma.  It occurs when the eye is unable to drain fluid due to a complete blockage allowing eye pressure to increase.  While some do not experience any symptoms and have normal vision, others  with closed-angle glaucoma  experience more noticeable symptoms which include sudden blurred or loss of vision, headaches and eye pain, glare and halos, red eyes, nausea and vomiting. Should you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention to avoid permanent damage to your optic nerve.

Congenital glaucoma:
This type of glaucoma is considered somewhat rare. Congenital glaucoma is typically diagnosed at birth and up to 3 years of age, and usually does require surgery.

The most common symptoms  of congenital glaucoma are enlargement of the eye, cloudy cornea and persistent tearing.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Glaucoma can affect anyone, and our chances for developing glaucoma increase the older we get. However, studies have shown that there are several factors that can increase a person’s risk for developing glaucoma.  High risk factor groups include the following:

  • A Family History of Glaucoma. The most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, is proven to be hereditary.  Should you have a family history of glaucoma, your chances of eventually developing the disease increase up to nine times.
  • African-Americans.  Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans and they are more likely to develop glaucoma than any other race.
  • People over the age of 50.  Everyone has some risk of developing the disease, but your risk increases dramatically as you age.
  • Hispanics.  Hispanics have a higher risk for glaucoma than Caucasians, especially in the elderly.

Other risk factors include:

  • People who smoke or have a history of smoking
  • Diabetics
  • People suffering from high blood pressure
  • People with high cholesterol
  • Those with a family history of heart attacks or strokes
The doctors at Burlington Eye Associates encourage routine eye exams for early detection of glaucoma and prevention of optic nerve damage causing loss of sight from glaucoma.     

Schedule your complete eye health exam today.  

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