Maryland Eye Associates
800 Prince Frederick Boulevard
Prince Frederick, MD 20678
Glaucoma The Silent Eye Disease
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. According to the World Health Organization, 5.1 million people in the world are legally blind from glaucoma. The U.S. Department of Commerces Bureau of the Census reported that nearly 6% of African Americans and almost 2% of Whites, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans have glaucoma. These are staggering percentages and many people who have glaucoma are unaware that they even have the disease. Often it is diagnosed late in the disease after much of the vision has already been lost.
The optic nerve is the nerve that carries vision from our eyes to our brains. Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve; it is what we call an optic neuropathy. We are all born with over a million nerve fibers that travel within the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged by glaucoma, these nerve fibers may be lost and vision may be diminished.
Typically glaucoma affects
peripheral, or side vision, early in the disease and only affects central vision late in the disease. This is one of
the reasons it goes undetected for many years. No other symptoms are present with many types of glaucoma except for severe vision loss late in the disease.
Glaucoma is actually not a single disease but a group of diseases with a common final pathway. The final pathway is damage to the optic nerve, which causes progressive loss of the visual field. Some of the most important risk factors for developing glaucoma are high eye pressures, large cupping of the optic nerve (loss of nerve fibers), older age, a family history of glaucoma, African-American descent, steroid use, diabetes, and nearsightedness. Other risk factors exist and different risk factors predispose people to different types of glaucoma.
To date, there is no cure for glaucoma, and we are not able to reverse the vision loss caused by glaucoma. This is why it is so important to diagnose it and to begin treatment as early as possible in the disease. The treatment of glaucoma depends upon the severity of the disease. The goal of treatment is to slow down the progression of visual loss and this is accomplished by lowering the pressure inside of the eye. Often medication drops are placed in the eye on a daily basis as treatment. Other treatment modalities, however, are often necessary. This includes laser surgery. It also includes conventional surgery to the eye, this allows the fluid from the eye to exit in a new way thereby lowering eye pressure.
Glaucoma is a devastating group of diseases. However, most people who are diagnosed early and treated do very well. If you have risk factors for developing glaucoma or are concerned about glaucoma you should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist in your area.