Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that result in damage to the optic nerve. The damage is usually the result of abnormally high intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure inside the eye). Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States. Because there are often no symptoms until the condition is advanced and vision loss has already occurred, it is known as “the silent thief of sight.” This is why it is critical to have regular eye exams, especially if you are over 50, have a family history of glaucoma, are African American, are diabetic or are very nearsighted. If caught early, glaucoma can be controlled.
The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma. This results from the drainage angle of the eye becoming less efficient over time, causing pressure to build within the eye. There are typically no symptoms in the early stages of open-angle glaucoma. It isn’t until significant damage has been done to the optic nerve, due to the high pressure, that vision loss is noticed. If all the optic nerve fibers are allowed to die, blindness is the result.
Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the iris is too close to the drainage angle, which can actually cause the iris to be sucked into the drainage angle, completely blocking it. This causes the pressure inside the eye to build since it cannot drain and causes an acute closed-angle glaucoma attack. This type of glaucoma can occur suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. If not treated quickly, it can cause severe damage to the optic nerve and possibly blindness.