Problems & Conditions

Problems & Conditions

Glaucoma is a disease that causes a gradual degeneration of cells that make up the optic nerve which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. As the nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning in the periphery. Often, the vision loss is unnoticeable until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred.

Between three and four million Americans have glaucoma, including an estimated 1.5 to two million people who do not even know they have the disease. The most common type of glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, with no symptoms for an extended period of time. Left untreated, loss of side vision will occur and may eventually lead to blindness. 

Risk Factors

The exact cause of primary open-angle glaucoma, the disease’s most common form, is uncertain but factors that increase the glaucoma risk include:

  • Age (Individuals over 40)
  • Race (Hispanic & African American)
  • Diabetes
  • Eye Trauma
  • Long-term use of steroid medications
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Nearsightedness
  • Elevated fluid pressure within the eye

Other forms of glaucoma, such as angle-closure, secondary and congenital glaucoma, occur in relation to specific physical causes. For example, with angle-closure glaucoma, the area through which the eye’s fluid normally drains, known as the angle, becomes blocked, causing fluid and pressure to suddenly increase in the eye. With congenital glaucoma, patients are born with a defect in the eye’s angle, preventing the fluid from draining at a normal rate, causing eye pressure to increase. Both conditions are correctable with surgery.  

Treatment

Most cases of glaucoma can be controlled and vision loss slowed or halted with treatment. Medications, laser treatments and surgery can lower the pressure within the eye, however, any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored. In these cases, low vision devices can help compensate for the vision that was lost by improving vision.  

Visit the Low Vision website for more information, including details about low vision devices.