Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve and is one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. It is a progressive disease which if left untreated can cause permanent and irreversible blindness. As the optic nerve becomes damaged you first lose your peripheral vision and as the disease progresses, your central vision can also be damaged. The disease usually occurs in individuals over the age of 40. There is also greater risk if you have a family history of glaucoma, are diabetic, have high blood pressure and/or history of eye injury.
Elevated pressure in the eye can cause damage to the optic nerve, which is the nerve responsible for taking the information from the eye and transmits that information to the brain. There are many different types of glaucoma. The most common form of glaucoma is open angle glaucoma, which in its early stages has no symptoms and thus referred to as “the silent thief”. By the time an individual begins to notice a loss in their peripheral vision, the disease has progressed to a point that irreversible vision loss has already occurred. Another type of glaucoma, a rarer form of the disease, called closed angle glaucoma is when the pressure in the eye suddenly rises. Within this scenario the individual may experience symptoms like pain, blurred vision, and see halos around lights. If left untreated, both of these forms of glaucoma can lead to complete loss of vision.
Detection and Prevention:
There is no way to prevent glaucoma, which is why a comprehensive eye examination with your Doctor of Optometry or Ophthalmologist is highly recommended. These check-ups are the only way to detect the disease. During the exam, a tonometer is used to measure your eye pressure. An abnormally high eye pressure reading indicates a problem with the amount of fluid in the eye. The eye may be producing too much fluid, or the fluid is not draining properly. Your doctor will also look and observe the health of the optic nerve and measure your field of vision. Special equipment may also be used to image your eye.
Depending on the severity, treatment can include: glaucoma surgery, laser, or eye drops. When detected and treated early, eye drops and/or laser surgery are usually effective at maintaining vision.