Glaucoma is a treatable condition, but if gone undetected it can permanently damage optical nerve tissue. Regular eye exams can detect and deter vision loss.
Glaucoma is commonly thought of as a singular eye condition that generally only affects the elderly. It is actually a group of diseases that primarily shows itself in a few distinct ways. The conditions directly and negatively impact optical nerve tissue and if left unaddressed, can and will cause irreversible vision loss. Without proper care, optic nerve damage can even lead to blindness. While it is true that those who suffer from the effects of nerve damage are typically older, warning signs can be detected early on, usually in time to prevent or minimize the damage of the disease.
Causes of Glaucoma
In order to understand the different versions of the disease, it helps to understand the major instigating factors. While a variety of symptoms may be present in a glaucoma patient, the most common forms of the illness are caused by high pressure within the eye.
Picture the human eye; a transparent layer forms the front in a kind of dome over the parts we can see – the iris and pupil. The dome is called the cornea and the inside of this dome, between the meshwork of the iris and cornea, is known as the anterior chamber. In a healthy patient, ocular fluid moves freely in and out of the chamber. When fluid backs up, the pressure in this minuscule drainage system builds up. This is known as IOP, or intraocular pressure. Complications in the flow of fluid and the resulting increase in IOP cause the optic nerve damage characteristic of glaucoma.
Types and Variations
Fluid flows out of the anterior chamber at the corners, or “angles,” of the anterior chamber. This waterway is essential for maintaining optimal pressure in the eye. When the waterway out of the anterior chamber is blocked, pressure builds quickly causing immediate damage to the nerve tissue. We refer to this as “angle-closure glaucoma.”
Sometimes pressure builds even though the “angles” are clear. This type of glaucoma is called “primary open-angle glaucoma,” and as is actually the variety of glaucoma we see the most. And although rare, still other types of glaucoma can develop even when there are no principal concerns with a patient’s interocular pressure.
In all cases of glaucoma, early detection is the key to managing or preventing the damage the condition causes to the optic nerve and the associated vision impairment. It is one of a host of ocular and systemic diseases that shows symptoms detectable in a comprehensive eye exam. Even if you have not noticed a change in vision, your annual visit to the optometrist is a crucial step in maintaining your overall health and well-being.