Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterized by elevated intraocular pressure, which can damage the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain. Although doctors know a lot about glaucoma, in many ways it is a mysterious disease. In fact, it has earned the nickname “The Silent Thief of Sight” based on the way it can cause irreversible eye damage in the absence of any symptoms. Read on as the team at Berks Eye Physicians and Surgeons explains more about this puzzling disorder.
Glaucoma at a Glimpse
In a normal, healthy eye, a clear fluid fills the eye and filters out from the eye through a juncture where the iris and the cornea meet, called the drainage angle. This juncture contains sponge-like tissue, called the trabecular meshwork, that helps facilitate the outflow of fluid. To maintain healthy pressure inside the eye (i.e., intraocular pressure) there must be a balance between the fluid that circulates inside the eye and fluid that leaves the eye.
When fluid has trouble exiting the eye through the drainage angle, it can build up inside the eye and cause a spike in intraocular pressure. Elevated intraocular pressure can damage the eye’s optic nerve, which carries information to the brain. Once the optic nerve has been damaged, it cannot be fixed. This is what causes vision loss and in the most serious cases, blindness.
The Mysteriousness of Glaucoma
Here’s why experts say that glaucoma can damage the eye “silently”:
In the most common form of glaucoma, fluid builds up slowly and intraocular pressure gradually increases without causing any noticeable symptoms. These types of cases, known as primary open-angle glaucoma, can steal vision very stealthily. (The other type of glaucoma, known as angle-closure glaucoma, comes on very quickly and causes noticeable symptoms like nausea, vomiting and eye pain.)
In open-angle glaucoma, peripheral vision is first lost, gradually leading to what appears to be “tunnel vision,” before robbing vision altogether. In the early stages of these cases, the only way to detect elevated intraocular pressure is through an examination and testing with an ophthalmologist.
Protecting Yourself from Glaucoma
You can probably understand why regular eye exams are crucial, as they can detect early signs of glaucoma when there are no noticeable symptoms. It is particularly important to have regular eye exams if you present any risk factors for glaucoma, including the following:
- Over the age of 40 if you are African-American
- Over the age of 60 (especially if you are Mexican-American)
- Family history of glaucoma
- History of elevated intraocular pressure
If you have additional questions about glaucoma, or you would like to schedule an appointment to be screened by our team, please call or email us today.