What is Glaucoma?Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that occurs when drainage canals within the eye become clogged or blocked. Fluid builds up within the eye, and the increasing pressure damages the optic nerve. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the primary cause of blindness among African Americans. The most common form of glaucoma, accounting for more than 90% of all cases, is called open-angle glaucoma. In open-angle glaucoma, the drainage canals become clogged but are not blocked entirely. Because some fluid is still able to drain, people with this type of glaucoma may feel fine and not have any symptoms for years after the onset of the disease. Later on, patients will notice a loss of peripheral vision, or darkness and blurriness at the sides of their visual field. When they look straight at something, their vision will be as good as it ever was. Unfortunately, by this time, the glaucoma is already at a severe stage, and without treatment it can lead to complete blindness. There are other, less common types of glaucoma. Angle-closure glaucoma is an acute form of glaucoma that comes on very suddenly. The drainage canals become blocked and pressure within the eye rises very rapidly. Patients will have a sudden loss of vision along with headaches or nausea. This type of glaucoma needs to be treated right away. Rarely, children can be born with glaucoma or develop it in infancy. Babies with glaucoma may shy away from bright lights, be irritable, or have poor appetites. Because glaucoma most often does not have symptoms in the early stages, it is important to have regular eye exams to check for glaucoma, especially if you are at risk. High risk groups include African Americans, Latinos, people with diabetes, and anyone over age 60. An eye doctor can check for glaucoma in several different ways. A visual field test checks for loss of peripheral vision. A dilated eye exam allows the doctor to see the optic nerve and inspect it for damage. A test called tonometry, in which a tiny puff of air is blown at the eye, checks the pressure within the eye and screens specifically for glaucoma. Once you have a diagnosis, treatment depends on the type and stage of glaucoma that you have. Most people with glaucoma treat it with medicated eye drops. These drops help decrease fluid production within the eye and increase drainage. If medications aren't enough, another option is to have surgery to open up the drainage canals. Although surgery can halt the progression of glaucoma, it cannot restore vision that has already been lost to the disease.
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