Glaucoma, in most circumstances, is a painless, progressive disease of the eyes that causes an irreversible loss of vision. It is the second most common cause of blindness worldwide and causes loss of vision for millions of people, each year, worldwide.
Unlike loss of vision due to the development of cataracts, which causes a general difficulty in reading or seeing things and is reversible, the loss of vision in glaucoma occurs in sectors of vision and two eyes of one patient can be affected in different ways. In addition to this vision loss in glaucoma is irreversible. Although vision loss in glaucoma cannot be reversed it certainly can be prevented.
Imagine what you see as an image of a complex multi piece jigsaw puzzle that is complete. In this situation your eye sees a complete picture with all its details. Glaucoma affects the vision in such a way that you may feel as if you are losing a few pieces in a large multi piece jigsaw puzzle. The loss may not even be perceived by the patienr. In the beginning you may have no problems because what you do cannot see with one eye you can possibly compensate for by what you see with the other. However, as time goes on, and glaucoma progresses unchecked, you may end up losing more pieces in the puzzle until one day most or all of the pieces are lost and the picture makes no sense. This is why glaucoma is often and rightfully called the “silent thief of sight”.
If you have a first degree relative for example, a parent or a sibling with glaucoma, your risk for developing this disease is significantly higher than the rest of the population and you must be screened periodically and treatment should be undertaken if disease exists. It is important to keep in mind that you can develop glaucoma without having any family history of the disease.
If you have had severe deep infections in the eye, injury to the eye or multiple surgeries your risk for developing glaucoma also increases.
When you visit your eye doctor please be sure that he or she checks your eye pressure and examines the main nerve of the eye called the optic nerve. If there is concern that you might have the disease, the doctor may ask you to undergo some additional tests such as a detailed image of the eye called an OCT, tests that determine the function of the optic nerve such as visual fields and tests of the thickness of your cornea called pachymetry. In circumstances when the doctor is confident based on the findings of your eye examination that you are not at risk for glaucoma, he or she may not order any of these tests at all.
If you do have a diagnosis of glaucoma, it is imperative you are treated in the manner most appropriate for your stage and type of disease.
This is important to protect your vision. Multiple different modalities of treatment exist for glaucoma including eye medications delivered directly to the eye by way of eye drops, laser surgery, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery and more invasive surgical procedures. Your doctor is the best judge as to what is best suited to your particular circumstance.
The most important thing to remember is this. Glaucoma can affect individuals at any age and while vision loss in glaucoma is not reversible it is certainly preventable given appropriate treatment to a patient who suffers from this not so uncommon disease