How Serious Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma isn’t a single disease, but is a group of conditions that damage your optic nerve. There are many different types of glaucoma, and all of them can cause blindness if untreated. 

The expert providers at Cooper Eye Care want you to enjoy good vision and healthy eyes for as long as you possibly can. A big part of preventing glaucoma is being aware of your risk and getting regular eye exams so that you can begin treatment as early as possible if it begins to develop. 

General glaucoma information

There’s no cure for glaucoma, but there are treatments. If glaucoma is left untreated, it causes blindness. Even among people who are treated, about 10% still lose their vision. 

Once you lose vision due to damage from glaucoma, you can’t get it back. However, medication or surgery may keep you from losing more of your sight. If you have glaucoma, you will need lifetime monitoring and treatment. 

Although many people think of glaucoma as being a disease that older people get, anyone can have glaucoma — babies are sometimes born with it. 

Perhaps one of the most alarming facts about glaucoma is that about half of people who have it don’t know it. You can have glaucoma and not have any symptoms at all. 

Types of glaucoma

There are two main categories of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. In both cases, the drainage system of your eyes doesn’t work like it should and a buildup of fluid causes the pressure in your eye to rise. That pressure causes damage to your optic nerve. 

Your optic nerve is made up of millions of nerve fibers. If you imagine a thick cable that is actually lots of tiny wires twisted together, you have an idea of how your optic nerve is structured. With glaucoma, the small nerve fibers begin to die, and you develop blind spots in your vision; but they are so small, you may not even notice until a great many of your nerve fibers have died. 

In a healthy eye, fluid, which is called aqueous humor, drains out through a tissue called the trabecular meshwork. That tissue is located where your iris and cornea meet, which is an angle. This process happens continually. 

Primary open-angle glaucoma

This is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting millions of people worldwide. With this type, the angle where your cornea and iris meet is fine, but the trabecular meshwork becomes partly blocked. It’s a little like having a screen over your sink drain that becomes blocked. The slow drainage causes fluid to build up and increases the pressure in your eyes. 

Angle-closure glaucoma

The second category of glaucoma is caused by a problem with the angle where your cornea and iris meet. Your iris bulges forward which reduces the drainage angle. That blocks the fluid from moving through the trabecular meshwork and increases the pressure in your eyes. This can happen suddenly, called acute angle-closure glaucoma, and is a medical emergency. 

Other types

Those are the two main categories, but there are additional types of glaucoma. For example, normal-tension glaucoma is when your optic nerve is damaged but the pressure in your eye is normal. Pigmentary glaucoma occurs when granules of pigment from your iris block the drainage of aqueous humor through the trabecular meshwork. 

Caring for your eyes

The best way to avoid losing your vision due to glaucoma is to have regular, comprehensive eye exams. There is a genetic predisposition for glaucoma, so if members of your family have it, it’s particularly important for you to have regular eye exams. Knowing your family’s health history and talking to us about your risk factors during your exam is also a valuable way to protect your vision. 

To answer the question posed in the title of this post, glaucoma is a serious condition that can lead to blindness. If you have questions about glaucoma, your risk factors, or how glaucoma is treated, schedule an appointment at our Manhattan or Brooklyn office today. 

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