Glaucoma is a common disease of the optic nerve, the part of the eye that carries images we see to our brain.
Each optic nerve has nearly 1 million fibers when we are born. Glaucoma causes progressive death of these nerve fibers. Eventually it can lead to complete blindness.
There are many types of glaucoma. Acute glaucoma is uncommon and very symptomatic. Patients have pain and decreased vision. They usually seek treatment soon because of their symptoms.
“Chronic open-angle glaucoma,” or COAG, is by far the most common type of glaucoma. Unlike acute glaucoma, COAG is a very insidious disease and is completely without symptoms until major damage has occurred to the optic nerve. Unfortunately damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed. COAG is the single most-important reason for having regular eye exams because blindness can be prevented in almost all patients by early detection and treatment.
Glaucoma is usually diagnosed or suspected based on the findings of a careful, dilated eye examination. Early findings can be very subtle and detectable only by very skilled eye doctors. Special, painless tests are then usually done to confirm the diagnosis and monitor for progression of the disease. These special tests include pachymetry (measuring corneal thickness), visual fields (testing peripheral vision) and ocular coherence tomography (measuring the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer).
Glaucoma is usually treated by using eye drops to lower the fluid pressure inside the eye. There are many different eye drops for glaucoma and your eye doctor will choose the drop that is best for you. Sometimes eye drops are inadequate or poorly tolerated and other therapies, such as laser procedures or surgery, are required.