Glaucoma is a slowly progressive disease which causes decreased vision, ranging from only slight loss to absolute blindness. It is the one of the major cases of blindness in America. Both eyes are usually affected. There are no symptoms until loss of vision occurs, at which point the structures in the eye have already been substantially damaged.
Damage inside the eye occurs when there is an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye. Normally, fluid is secreted in the eye to help nourish structures inside the eye. When drainage from the eye is reduced, pressure inside the eye increases. Increased pressure inside the eye causes damage by interfering with the blood supply in the small blood vessels serving the optic nerve. When the blood supply to the nerve is decreased, degeneration of the nerve and loss of vision result. Increased pressure on the nerve also damages the delicate tissue through which the nerve fibers pass from the retina. This causes damage to the nerve fibers and loss of vision.
People who have a family history of glaucoma, and those who are diabetic, nearsighted, or African American have a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
Treatment is aimed at lowering the pressure inside the eye, in order to prevent further nerve damage. Eye drops are typically the first type of medication used. If they are not effective, laser treatment, oral medication, or surgery is indicated. Using the medication as prescribed is extremely important in controlling the disease. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.