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Information on Glaucoma
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the normal fluid
pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, leading to vision lossor even
blindness. This brochure is about open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of
What causes it?
At the front of the eye, there is a small space called the
anterior chamber. Clear fluid flows in and out of the chamber to bathe and
nourish nearby tissues. In glaucoma, for still unknown reasons, the fluid drains
too slowly out of the eye. As the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye
rises. Unless this pressure is controlled, it may cause damage to the optic
nerve and other parts of the eye and loss of vision.
Who is most likely to get it?
Nearly 3 million people have glaucoma, a leading cause of
blindness in the United States. Although anyone can get glaucoma, some people
are at higher risk. They include:
Blacks over the age of 40.
Anyone over the age of 60.
People with a family history of glaucoma.
Among Blacks, studies show that glaucoma is:
Five times more likely to occur in Blacks than in Whites.
About four times more likely to cause blindness in Blacks
than in Whites.
Fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in Blacks
between the ages of 45- 64 than in Whites of the same age group.
What are the symptoms?
At first, there are no symptoms. Vision stays normal, and
there is no pain.
However, as the disease progresses, a person with glaucoma
may notice his or her side vision gradually failing. That is, objects in front
may still be seen clearly, but objects to the side may be missed. As the disease
worsens, the field of vision narrows and blindness results.
How is it detected?
Many people may know of the "air puff" test or
other tests used to measure eye pressure in an eye examination. But ,this test
alone cannot detect glaucoma. Glaucoma is found most often during an eye
examination through dilated pupils. This means drops are put into the eyes
during the exam to enlarge the pupils. This allows the eye care professional to
see more of the inside of the eye to check for signs of glaucoma.
How can it be treated?
Although open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured, it can
usually be controlled. The most common treatments are:
These may be either in the
form of eyedrops or pills. Some drugs are designed to reduce pressure by slowing
the flow of fluid into the eye. Others help to improve fluid drainage.
For most people with glaucoma, regular use of medications
will control the increased fluid pressure. But, these drugs may stop working
over time. Or, they may cause side effects. If a problem occurs, the eye care
professional may select other drugs, change the dose, or suggest other ways to
deal with the problem.
During laser surgery, a
strong beam of light is focused on the part of the anterior chamber where the
fluid leaves the eye. This results in a series of small changes, which makes it
easier for fluid to exit the eye. Over time, the effect of laser surgery may
wear off. Patients who have this form of surgery may need to keep taking
Surgery can also help fluid escape
from the eye and thereby reduce the pressure. However, surgery is usually
reserved for patients whose pressure cannot be controlled with eye drops, pills,
or laser surgery.
What research is being done?
A large amount of research is being done in the U.S. to
learn what causes glaucoma and to improve its diagnosis and treatment. For
instance, the National Eye Institute (NEI) is funding a number of studies to
find out what causes fluid pressure to increase in the eye. By learning more
about this process, doctors may be able to find the exact cause of the disease
and learn better how to prevent and treat it. The NEI also supports clinical
trials of new drugs and surgical techniques that show promise against glaucoma.
What can you do to protect your vision?
Studies have shown that the early detection and treatment
of glaucoma, before it causes major vision loss, is the best way to control the
disease. So, if you fall into one of the high-risk groups for the disease, make
sure to have your eyes examined through dilated pupils every two years by an eye
To learn more about glaucoma write: National Eye Health
Education Program, 2020 Vision Place, Bethesda, MD 20892-3655.
Information provided by NIH.