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What is Glaucoma?

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Glaucoma related image Photo: Getty Images

Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that are caused by the build up of pressure within the eye due to fluid backup. Over time, this backed up fluid can damage the optic nerve resulting in vision loss and blindness.

It is know as the “silent vision killer” because at first, open-angle glaucoma (the most common form) has no symptoms, causes no pain and vision remains unaffected.

Early detection is the key to prevent serious vision loss.

Facts about Glaucoma

Glaucoma is often a very misunderstood disease, so let’s look at a few facts.

• Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States and the second most common cause of vision loss in seniors in Canada, and the second leading cause of world-wide blindness according to the World Health Organization.

• Glaucoma occurs most often in people over the age of 40, but children and infants may also get it.

• “People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans over the age of 40, and Hispanics over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma.” (American Optometric Association) Other risk factors include presence or family history of myopia and diabetes.

• Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.

• There is currently no cure for glaucoma and once vision is lost it cannot be restored.

• “It is estimated that over 4 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those know they have it” (Glaucoma Research Foundation).

• It is estimated that approximately 70 million people have glaucoma world-wide.

Types, Symptoms and Treatments of Glaucoma

There are several types of glaucoma including:

Open-angle glaucoma accounts for 90 per cent of all cases in Canada (with similar numbers in the U.S.);
Primary acute closed-angle glaucoma occurs very suddenly and is treated on an emergency basis, and “results from a buildup of fluid in the eye because the distance between the iris and the drainage system has been closed, stopping fluid from draining from the eye” (CNIB);
Secondary Glaucoma results from other conditions such as injury to the eye, inflammation, complications related to eye surgery, diabetes and use of certain medications.

Referring to open-angle glaucoma, if it goes untreated, a person will slowly start to lose their peripheral vision and experience “tunnel” vision. This vision loss will progress until everything is black.

The most important preventive measure is regular visual examinations. Ask your eye care professional if their examination includes testing for glaucoma. Your eye care professional will conduct several tests to look for glaucoma including:

• Visual acuity test to measure how well you see at various distances
• Visual field test how well you see from side to side
• Dilated eye exam (eye drops)
• Tonometry to measure the pressure inside the eye
• Pachymetry to measure the thickness of your cornea

If you have glaucoma, there are several treatment options available including eye drops or pills to lower eye pressure, or lessen the amount of fluid the eye makes, or to help fluid drain from the eye. Laser trabeculoplasty is a surgical procedure that actually drains fluid out of the eye. Conventional surgery (trabeculectomy) may be suggested to create a new opening for the fluid to drain out of the eye.

As already mentioned, many people may already have early signs of glaucoma and not know it. It is important to make sure you schedule regular visual check ups and reduce the chance of the world going black.


About Glaucoma. The Glaucoma Foundation. Web. Nov 3, 2011. http://www.glaucomafoundation.org/about_glaucoma.htm

Facts about Glaucoma. National Eye Institute. Web. Nov 3, 2011. http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts.asp

Glaucoma. Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Web. Nov 3, 2011. http://www.cnib.ca/en/your-eyes/eye-conditions/glaucoma

Learn about Glaucoma. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Web. Nov 3, 2011. http://www.glaucoma.org

Glaucoma. American Optometric Association. Web. Nov 3, 2011. http://www.aoa.org/Glaucoma.xml

Reviewed November 3, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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