What exactly is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve caused because the pressure of the fluid inside the eye has been too high for that particular nerve to tolerate. This may be prolonged high pressure, intermittent high pressure, or, in some situations, a nerve that cannot tolerate normal pressure. Each optic nerve normally consists of 1.2 to 1.6 million separate nerve fibers. These carry information from the rods and cones in our two retinas to our brain. In both occipital cortex areas of the brain, this information is assembled into the picture that we “see”. These nerve fibers do not regenerate if lost. Because of the layout of the fibers in our retinas, glaucoma often causes loss of peripheral vision first in the nasal periphery of the visual field. Peripheral vision becomes more involved as it progresses. Central vision is typically not lost until late in the course of the disease.
How do I know if I have Glaucoma?
Often you don’t without an eye exam. Glaucoma is often called “the silent thief” of vision. In the majority of patients it is painless and without symptoms until vision loss becomes more severe. In some cases up to 50% of a person’s optic nerve fibers may be lost before a person notices the disease. Regular eye exams are the most effective way to protect the health of your eye. If the diagnosis of glaucoma is in question, state-of-the-art detection equipment, such as the Heidelberg Retinal Tomography unit or Humphrey Automated Visual Field machine that we use at the Berg Eye Center, may be employed to uncover it very early in the course of the disease.
What are some of the possible treatments for Glaucoma?
In the USA glaucoma is typically first treated with medicated eye drops that reduce the fluid production in the eye or enhance the fluid outflow. In a few people medications may not be enough to prevent further nerve fiber loss, and laser treatment or actual surgery on the eye may be needed to preserve vision.