Medicine / Ophthalmology
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Glaucoma: A simple introduction to a complex disease.

May 16, 2011

Ankit A. Shah BS1, Sandeep S. Walia MBA, BBA2,
David S Risner MD3, F Lawson Grumbine MD3

1 University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa, FL
2 Texas Tech University School of Medicine, Lubbock TX
3 Emory Eye Center, Atlanta, GA

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness both worldwide and in the United States, affecting approximately 4 million Americans. Glaucoma cannot be classified as a single disease, but rather is a group of eye diseases. This group of disease is broad with an array of causes, but the common end result is damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the nerve that carries signals and images from each eye to the brain.

Each specific subtype of glaucoma has its own set of signs, symptoms and treatment that you can discuss with your ophthalmologist. Broadly speaking, glaucoma can fall into two main categories: open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma. The angle refers to the drainage canal in the front part of the eye.

Closed angle glaucoma is rarer and occurs when the drainage canal gets blocked. The pressure in the eye can rise quickly and cause symptoms of headache, blurry vision, eye pain, nausea, and the sensation of haloes around lights. There are multiple treatment methods include laser procedures and surgery that an ophthalmologist can perform.

On the other hand, open-angle glaucoma is more common but can be asymptomatic. The drainage canal is not blocked and thus the pressure in the eye doesn't acutely rise. Thus, there are often no signs or symptoms. It can go unnoticed for years and, left untreated, can cause a gradual, progressive loss of vision. Risk factors for open angle glaucoma include, but are not limited to, having elevated intraocular pressure, African American ethnicity, elderly age, and having a family history of glaucoma. Once diagnosed, treatment modalities include medications mainly in eyedrop preparation, laser treatments, and surgical intervention. An ophthalmologist can discuss with you a personalized plan based on your eye-health and overall health.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests screening for open angle glaucoma in high risk populations that include the elderly, individuals with a family history of glaucoma, or patients of Hispanic or African American ethnicity. A screening for glaucoma includes a thorough history-taking and eye-examination that includes measuring intraocular pressure, viewing the drainage canal, and evaluating the health of your optic nerve. A prior history of, or plans for, LASIK or other refractive surgery should be discussed during screening.

For further information on the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, you should consult with an ophthalmologist.


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