Glaucoma is a grouping of eye diseases that warrants deep and consistent discussion. Because millions of people are currently affected by glaucoma and millions more are predicted to develop this disease at some point, we cannot do too much to increase awareness. Experts have estimated that the number of people with glaucoma will reach a whopping 79 million globally by 2020. That’s concerning to us. What should be concerning to you is the way in which glaucoma works – silently.
Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that scientists have studied for many years. Still, this particular condition presents unique challenges to patients and their care providers. During this month of national glaucoma awareness, we seek to raise increase our patients’ knowledge regarding the dangers of glaucoma and ways we can work together to prevent vision loss.
How Glaucoma Steals Sight
When glaucoma develops, it causes the retinal ganglion cells to deteriorate. This doesn’t occur overnight. In fact, it occurs so gradually that a person may not realize what is happening until they have lost some of their visual field. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. The reason why is that the deterioration of retinal cells causes an increase in pressure against the optic nerve. This singular tiny structure at the back of the eye is what is responsible for delivering light to the brain where a visual image can be perceived.
Ideally, glaucoma can be detected in a comprehensive eye exam in which increased ocular pressure is noticed. For this to happen, it is necessary to see the eye doctor regularly, especially after age 60. When increased ocular pressure is noted during an eye exam, it alerts us that a person is what we call glaucoma suspect, meaning they have a higher risk of developing the eye disease. A patient with higher risk can then be closely monitored so treatment can begin as soon as medically necessary.
Glaucoma treatment revolves around decreasing ocular pressure. In many cases, especially when caught early, this can be achieved with prescription medication. Several medications have been developed to slow or stop the progression of glaucoma by reducing pressure on the optic nerve. In some cases, laser surgery can be performed to reduce pressure in the eye.