Glaucoma occurs without warning. Chances increase if you are over 60 years of age, if you have a relative with glaucoma, are diabetic, have a higher amount of nearsightedness or if you are an African-American. Glaucoma can damage your eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness.
Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside your eyes slowly rises. Often referred to as the “puff test”, that little puff of air tells the doctor some very valuable information about the level of your intraocular pressure. As the disease progresses, objects to the side are missed in your vision. The doctor evaluates the results of your peripheral/side visual field test for this condition. Your doctor also carefully observes your optic nerve inside the back of the eye for any signs of glaucomatous damage to the nerve fibers. The doctor observes this nerve through both the OPTOMAP retinal image and the use of his microscope with a special magnifying lens.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S. In very general terms, glaucoma can be compared to a plumbing problem inside the eye. Either the natural production of intraocular fluid inside the eye is too high or the natural draining of these fluids is too low, or sometimes a combination of imbalance between both the inflow and the outflow. As a result, pressure inside of the eye increases and this causes destruction of the optic nerve fibers inside the back of the eye.
The manner in which the nerve fibers are damaged typically causes a loss of the peripheral vision in the early stages of glaucoma. The peripheral vision test checks each eye separately, flashing tiny lights in various areas of your peripheral field of vision while the patient indicates which lights they see with the push of a button.
Glaucoma is sometimes called the “silent thief of sight” because it can sneak up and steal away your side vision without you realizing that any vision loss is occurring. It is true that glaucoma typically affects older patients, or those in the higher risk categories outlined above, but please bear in mind that glaucoma can and does affect all age groups. There are many types of glaucoma, although less common, that effect infants, juveniles and adults of any age range.
To dispel two common misconceptions about glaucoma – high intraocular pressures are not related to high blood pressure and unless the intraocular pressure is skyrocketing (which is very uncommon), you cannot “feel” high eye pressure. Early glaucoma typically has no symptoms. This is just one reason regular eye exams are so important, even if your vision seems great. As with so many diseases, early detection means early treatment and preserving your eyesight.