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Learn about Glaucoma

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Are you curious about glaucoma? Have you been diagnosed with this complex eye disease, or do you care about someone who could lose vision to glaucoma? If your answer is “yes,” there are a few things you should know.

First, what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals your vision. There are types of glaucoma, usually with no symptoms in the early stages. But without proper treatment, glaucoma can lead to blindness.

Today, more than 3 million people in America have glaucoma. About half of them don’t know it. The good news? Your eye doctor can test for glaucoma, even if you have no symptoms. And with regular eye exams, early detection, and proper care, you can preserve your sight.

Fortunately, glaucoma treatments are now available. From eye drop medications to laser treatments to surgery, these solutions control eye pressure, the main cause of vision loss in glaucoma. New approaches are continuously being developed and evaluated.

Working closely with their doctor, the vast majority of people living with glaucoma will retain their vision. To give your eyes their best chance, Glaucoma Research Foundation offers a wide range of resources for patients and caregivers, from a medication guide, to tips on working with your doctor, to information on financial assistance that can make eye care more affordable.

Most important, we want you to know: A cure is in sight. Preventing glaucoma, slowing its progression, restoring lost vision, reversing a disease that can steal sight — this is our mission. The progress we make every day, with leading scientists as our partners and support from people who share our cause, is bringing us closer to a future free from glaucoma, for everyone.

Video: What Is Glaucoma?

Nothing is more precious than our eyesight. Our eyes allow us to enjoy the beauty of the world around us. So much of what we learn, what we experience, and what we enjoy comes to us through our eyes.

As you look at the world around you think of how valuable your vision is. Now, think of how your world would be if you were losing your eyesight to a silent disease such as glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steals sight without warning, and often without symptoms. Every day millions of people around the world develop glaucoma and each day without treatment can bring them one step closer to blindness.

In a healthy eye, a balance exists between the fluid produced and the fluid that leaves the eye. This balance keeps the eye pressure at a healthy level. In order t maintain balance the eye has a built-in drainage system. This drainage system controls the inflow and outflow of fluids, which is responsible for nourishing the eye. The eye’s drainage system works a lot like a sink. Fluid is produced from the faucet and edits through the drain. If a blockage develops in the eye’s drainage system, or if fluid is produced faster than it can escape, an overflow will occur.

In the eye, this overflow causes the pressure to elevate. The optic nerve is most vulnerable to damage from elevated pressure. Continuous elevated pressure or spikes in pressure can damage the optic nerve. If left untreated, damage to the optic nerve can lead to vision loss and even blindness.

The main goals of glaucoma surgery are to reduce eye pressure and prevent vision loss. When treating glaucoma one option to reduce pressure is to turn off the faucet. Another option to reduce pressure is to remove the blockage that’s slowing the fluid from escaping. And the final option for reducing pressure is to create a new channel for the fluid to escape through. Your doctor will recommend the best option for you.

There are a number of treatment options available that are designed to slow down or stop damage to the eye that is caused by glaucoma. While vision that has already been lost due to glaucoma can not be recovered, these treatments can stop vision loss from getting worse. Your eye care professional may suggest medicated eye drops, a laser procedure, or a surgical procedure, to treat glaucoma. These treatments all have a common goal; to lower pressure inside of the eye and prevent further damage to the optic nerve.

Prescription eye drops lower pressure inside of the eye by decreasing the amount of fluid the eye produces, or by helping fluid leave the eye more easily. Laser procedures can lower eye pressure by relieving blockage in the drain mechanism of the eye. In some cases, lasers are also used to create new drainage channels inside the eye, when there is an obstruction to the normal flow of fluid. Surgical procedures lower eye pressure by creating an opening in the wall of the eye, so the fluid can easily escape. Another surgical approach is to implant a tube called a shunt to channel fluid out of the eye.

Your treatment plan will depend on the type of glaucoma you have, how far it has advanced, and your general health. Your eye care professional will determine the best approach for you.

Individuals who are at risk of developing glaucoma should be tested regularly to maintain the quality of their vision. There are many different tests that eye doctors may perform to monitor for glaucoma. One test a doctor may perform is called ophthalmoscopy. During this test, the doctor observes the condition of the optic nerve through a special microscope. If necessary, your doctor may also use a special camera to tale photographs of your eye for future comparison.

Another test that may be performed is called tonometry. This test measures the presence of elevated pressure inside of the eye, a key risk factor for glaucoma. The thickness of the cornea can influence the results of a tonometry test, so a doctor may measure the cornea by performing a test called pachymetry. Knowing the thickness of the cornea can help the doctor more accurately interpret pressure within the eye.

A doctor may perform a gonioscopy test. During this test, the doctor observes the angle of the eye where fluid is supposed to drain, to see if there is any blockage or closure that may elevate pressure within the eye. Patients may also be given an interactive test called a visual field test to detect vision loss due to glaucoma. During this test, patients look straight ahead, and indicate when they see a spot of light appear in their visual field. Spots that go unnoticed during this test may indicate areas of vision loss.

Another test that may be performed — OCT (optical coherence tomography) — measures your optic nerve using computerized imaging devices. These devices scan the area of the optic nerve providing highly detailed images of the optic nerve and surrounding tissue. This test can help doctors identify and treat glaucoma far in advance of previous technologies.

Doctors may perform one, or all of these tests on a patient, depending on their risks of developing glaucoma, and the condition of their eyes. Performed regularly, these tests provide an eye doctor with the information needed to effectively treat glaucoma and prevent vision loss.

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