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Glaucoma is a condition in which the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes (intraocular pressure, or IOP) slowly rises as a result of the fluid aqueous humor - which normally flows in and out of the eye - not being able to drain properly. Instead, the fluid collects and causes pressure damage to the optic nerve (a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that connects the retina with the brain) and loss of vision.
While physicians used to think that high intraocular pressure (also known as ocular hypertension) was the main cause of optic nerve damage in glaucoma, it is now known that even persons with normal IOP can experience vision loss from glaucoma. Thus, the causes are still unknown.
Most people who have glaucoma do not notice any symptoms until they begin to lose some vision. As optic nerve fibers are damaged by glaucoma, small blind spots may begin to develop, usually in the side or peripheral vision. Many people do not notice the blind spots until significant optic nerve damage has already occurred. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.
One type of glaucoma, acute angle-closure glaucoma, does produce noticeable symptoms because there is a rapid build-up of pressure in the eye. The following are the most common symptoms of this type of glaucoma. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of acute angle-closure glaucoma may resemble other eye conditions. Consult a physician for diagnosis immediately if you notice symptoms, as this type of glaucoma is considered a medical emergency requiring prompt medical attention to prevent blindness.
In addition to a complete medical history and eye examination, your eye care professional may perform the following tests to diagnose glaucoma:
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.
Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.
But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.
Although anyone can develop glaucoma, some people are at higher risk than others. The following are suggested as risk factors for glaucoma:
The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, recommends that anyone in these risk groups receive an eye examination with dilated pupils every two years.
Specific treatment for glaucoma will be determined by your physician based on:
While glaucoma cannot be cured, early treatment can often control it. Treatment may include:
In some cases, a single surgical procedure is not effective in halting the progress the glaucoma, and repeat surgery and/or continued treatment with medications may be necessary.