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What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

How does the optic nerve get damaged?

Increased eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage.  The increase in pressure results when fluid in the eye which normally flows continuously in and out is unable to exit the eye's drainage system easily enough, resulting in a build up of pressure. 

In open-angle glaucoma, even though the drainage angle is “open”, the fluid passes too slowly through the meshwork drain. As the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve and lead to permanent vision loss . That’s why controlling pressure inside the eye is important.

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Who is at risk for open-angle glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma. Some people, listed below, are at higher risk than others:

  • African Americans over age 40

  • Everyone over age 60

  • People with a family history of glaucoma

A comprehensive  eye exam can reveal more risk factors, such as high eye pressure, thinness of the cornea, and abnormal optic nerve anatomy. In some people with certain combinations of these high-risk factors, medicines in the form of eyedrops reduce the risk of developing glaucoma by about half.

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Glaucoma Symptoms

At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. It causes no pain and you vision isn't affected.   However, without early detection and treatment,  the optic nerve will slowly degenerate. This damage is irreversible, resulting in a loss of peripheral (side) vision.  As glaucoma remains untreated, patients will begin to miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye.  This tunnel vision will continue to worsen over time, eventually leading to straight-ahead (central) vision loss and in extreme cases complete blindess. 

Can I develop glaucoma without an increase in my eye pressure?

Yes. Glaucoma can develop without increased eye pressure. This form of glaucoma is called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma. It is a type of open-angle glaucoma.

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