WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that slowly causes vision loss. In fact, the loss occurs so slowly, experts estimate half of people affected by glaucoma may not even know they have it.
Vision loss due to glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain. It was once thought that high pressure within the eye, also known as intraocular pressure (or IOP), was the main cause of optic nerve damage. Although IOP is clearly a risk factor, we now know that other factors must also be involved, because even people with “normal” levels of pressure can experience vision loss from glaucoma.
While there is no cure for glaucoma, medications or surgery can usually prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma, as well as each patient’s response. Early detection is vital to stopping the progression of the disease.
ARE YOU AT RISK FOR GLAUCOMA?
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. However, certain groups of people are at higher risk than others, and should get a complete eye exam every one or two years.
The groups are as follows:
- African Americans – Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. It is six to eight times more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians.
- People Over 60 – Glaucoma is six times more common in people over 60 years of age.
- Family Members with Glaucoma – The most common type of glaucoma, primary open angle glaucoma, is hereditary. If members of your immediate family have glaucoma, you are at a much higher risk than the rest of the population. Family history increases risk of glaucoma four to nine times.
- Hispanics in Older Age Groups – Recent studies indicate that the risk for Hispanic populations is greater than those of predominantly European ancestry, and that the risk increases even more among Hispanics over age 60.
- Asians – People of Asian descent appear to be at some risk for angle closure glaucoma. Angle closure glaucoma accounts for less than 10% of all diagnosed cases of glaucoma. Otherwise there is no known increased risk in Asian populations.
- Steroid Users – Some evidence links steroid use to glaucoma. A study reported in the Journal of American Medical Association, March 5, 1997 demonstrated a 40% increase in the incidence of elevated intraocular pressure and open angle glaucoma in adults who require frequent use of a steroid inhaler to control asthma. The risk also increases with the use of other forms of steroids.
- Eye Injury – Injury to the eye may cause secondary open angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur immediately after the injury or years later. Blunt injuries that “bruise” the eye (called blunt trauma) or injuries that penetrate the eye can damage the eye’s drainage system, leading to traumatic glaucoma.
OTHER RISKS FACTORS
Other possible risk factors include:
- High myopia (nearsightedness)
- Thin corneas (measured by ultrasonic pachymetry)
Depending upon the type of glaucoma, treatment may include medication (usually prescription eyedrops), laser treatment, or surgery to lower the pressure in the eye and prevent further damage to the optic nerve. While there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve eyesight. We carefully monitor patients who are at risk for glaucoma or have early warning signs of the disease. Also, we work closely with your doctor of optometry to monitor eye health and pressure, to help catch glaucoma as soon as possible and minimize the risk of damaging effects.
SoCal Eye is also now offering patients the iStent, a microscopic stent that can be placed during cataract surgery to help treat glaucoma.
Note: This information is courtesy of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. For more information and a free booklet about glaucoma, visit the website for the Glaucoma Research Foundation at http://www.glaucoma.org/learn/literature.php.