Department of Ophthamology
Glaucoma is a disease that causes a progressive death of the nerve in the back of the eye. We have identified several causes and risk factors for glaucoma, but the exact mechanism for nerve death is unknown. We do know that eye pressure is related to the rate at which nerve cell death occurs, but pressure is not the whole story. Eye pressure is only one of many risk factors for glaucoma.
Other risk factors include:
- Age - you are at higher risk the older you get
- Any relatives with glaucoma
- Race - Blacks and Hispanics are at higher risk than Whites
It is important to realize that glaucoma usually has little or no symptoms until the disease is in its advanced stages. At this point it is often difficult to prevent further vision loss or blindness. Because of the lack of symptoms glaucoma is referred to as the "silent thief of sight". A comprehensive exam by an eye doctor is needed to diagnose glaucoma. Patients with risk factors should be examined for glaucoma yearly.
Glaucoma first causes blind spots to develop in the peripheral vision. By the time that even the smallest blind spot occurs, over half of the nerves in the back of the eye have already died. The blind spots then grow to encompass all of the peripheral vision leaving the patient with only a small area of central vision (this is like looking through a paper tube). If the disease is allowed to progress, the patient will eventually go completely blind.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but we have developed several treatment options. Glaucoma treatments vary depending on severity and complexity of disease. Glaucoma treatment usually begins with eye drops that help lower eye pressure. Many patients are successfully treated with eye drops alone; especially if the glaucoma is caught in its early stages. More advanced glaucoma may require laser or invasive surgeries in attempts to slow progression.