Glaucoma Basics

Healthy Aging, Healthy Living
on August 19, 2011
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The optic nerve is the part of the eye that sends visual information from the eye to the brain, without which you would not be able to see anything. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that lead to damage to the optic nerve.” Most often, these conditions are caused by pressure inside the eye, which, over time, leads to irreparable optic nerve damage. The most common type of glaucoma is the result of a block in the circulation of aqueous humor (fluid in the eye), where production of new fluid causes pressure to build while old fluid cannot efficiently flow out.

Glaucoma risk factors. Certain drugs, such as corticosteroids, may increase your risk of developing glaucoma. In addition, there is believed to be a genetic component, as a family history of glaucoma does seem to increase your risk of developing the disease yourself. A number of other diseases or illnesses, such as hypertension or diabetes, may also affect proper circulation. Even the drops an eye doctor uses to dilate your eyes during a routine eye examination may trigger glaucoma in those already at risk. The exact cause is unknown in most cases.

How glaucoma is diagnosed. Because glaucoma is often asymptomatic early in the disease, routine screenings are necessary to detect incidences of glaucoma before permanent damage occurs. This usually will be done during your routine yearly eye exam. Your doctor will check your intraocular pressure, as well as dilate your eyes to check for abnormalities. If either of these show cause for concern, additional tests will be done to confirm glaucoma and also to determine the type. The symptoms of glaucoma, if any, are slight at first, so you should always seek medical attention quickly for any vision abnormalities.

Treatments for glaucoma. Glaucoma treatments vary based on the type and severity, but it is most often treated with drug therapy or eye surgery. Drugs may be in the form of pills or eye drops and are specifically designed to decrease pressure inside the eye while attempting to protect the optic nerve from damage. Some types of glaucoma may be very successfully treated with surgery to reopen the circulation channels that may be causing the elevated pressures.