What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damages the optic nerve. Optic nerve damage is caused by increased pressure from fluid that builds up inside the eye. This happens when the liquid in the front part of the eye doesn’t circulate the way it should.

Normally, the fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of your eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, the liquid builds up. That’s what causes glaucoma. The reason for the blockage is unknown, but doctors do know it can be inherited

The amount of pressure that can cause damage varies from person to person. Glaucoma affects peripheral (or side) vision, narrowing the field of vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause total vision loss. Glaucoma can affect one or both eyes. The most common form is primary open-angle glaucoma.

If detected early, before noticeable vision loss occurs, glaucoma can usually be controlled. Vision lost from glaucoma cannot be restored. Anyone can get glaucoma, but those at higher risk include people who:

  • Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent
  • Are over 40
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have poor vision
  • Have diabetes
  • Take certain steroid medications, like prednisone
  • Have had trauma to the eye or eyes

Glaucoma often has no symptoms. In fact, half of all people with glaucoma don’t know they have it, and if it’s not detected and treated, they can lose their sight. The first sign is often a loss of peripheral, or side, vision. That can go unnoticed until late in the disease. That’s why glaucoma is sometimes called the “sneak thief of vision.”

Early detection through a comprehensive dilated eye exam and treatment with medication or surgery can help reduce severe vision loss from glaucoma.

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