Glaucoma is the name given to a group of related diseases where the optic nerve is being damaged. The nerve fibres progressively die taking away the peripheral or side vision first. Therefore visual loss goes undetected until it is quite advanced.
Glaucoma is the number one cause of preventable blindness in New Zealand and other developed countries.
There are no symptoms, so regular eye exams are essential
At the back of the eyeball, there is a nerve called the optic nerve that carries the signals from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve. Unfortunately the optic nerve cannot be repaired
Elevated eye pressure is an important risk factor for developing glaucoma. A healthy eye must have some pressure within it. There is a structure that produces fluid and another that drains the fluids. When an imbalance exists the eye pressure elevates.. When eye pressure becomes too high, the delicate structures of the eye can be irreversibly damaged. Some eyes are even damaged by pressure that is within the normal range for the entire population.
Treatment for glaucoma is aimed at lowering pressure to prevent further loss of vision.
Risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Elevated pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure)
- Positive family history of glaucoma
- Increasing age
Associated conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, myopia (short-sightedness).
Glaucoma is incurable. Damage to the optic nerve is permanent. The damage is progressive: if untreated, it will continue getting worse. Vision loss often goes unnoticed until it is quite serious.
Glaucoma can be detected by regular check-ups. The disease can be managed to prevent further damage, so the condition is far from hopeless
With timely treatment and good education, people with glaucoma can retain excellent vision their entire life.