Eye Q: Glaucoma

What is glaucoma?


Glaucoma is a disease that slowly takes sight away, starting from the peripheral (side) portion of one’s vision. The optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, is gradually damaged. This damage is related to elevated pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure. Intraocular pressure is not the same as blood pressure.


How is glaucoma treated?


Glaucoma is treated by lowering the intraocular pressure, the pressure inside the eye. Medical treatment using eye drops and laser treatment are most commonly used to lower the pressure. If those treatments do not work well enough, surgery can be performed in an operating room to create an alternative drain in the eye. Since this type of surgery carries a greater risk, it is usually saved for situations in which medicine and lasers already have been tried.


How can I find out if I have glaucoma?


There are no symptoms of glaucoma until the disease is very advanced. Glaucoma needs to be found in a screening examination in which the intraocular pressure is measured and the optic nerve inside the back of the eye is examined. The examination of the back of the eye requires the pupil to be dilated with drops that temporarily enlarge the pupil.


Who should be checked for glaucoma?


People over the age of 40, those with a family history of glaucoma and especially people of African descent are more likely to have glaucoma than the general public. We generally recommend that everyone be screened as part of a routine eye examination every five years or so during childhood and young adulthood. After the age of 40, the examination may need to be repeated every year or two, depending upon what has been found in the eyes.