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Health Notes

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that result in damage to the optic nerve, causing vision loss and possible blindness if untreated. In many, but not all cases, glaucoma is associated with rising pressure within the eye. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness, affecting nearly 3 million people in the United States. Because there are no early symptoms, one half of people with glaucoma do not know they have it. The good news is that with preventive eye examinations, early detection, and treatment, it is possible to control glaucoma and prevent blindness in most cases.

Clear fluid flows in and out of a space in the front of the eye called the anterior chamber. Proper drainage of this fluid keeps the eye's pressure at a normal level. In glaucoma, the fluid drains out of the eye too slowly, resulting in a buildup of pressure. If the pressure is not controlled, damage to the optic nerve will occur, causing vision loss.

In the early stages of glaucoma, there is usually no pain or vision change. Sight loss is a gradual process with peripheral vision affected first. Unless diagnosed and treated, central vision will eventually be affected. Glaucoma can be detected through eye examinations and special tests. These include evaluation of intraocular pressure (pressure within eye), corneal thickness, the optic nerve, the nerve fiber layer, the anterior chamber angle, and visual fields.

Eye drops are usually effective in reducing and controlling eye pressure. Surgery is considered if medications have failed to control eye pressure. Surgery can take the form of laser surgery or conventional surgery. Periodic eye examinations with your eye care professional are important to determine the effectiveness of treatment.

Although anyone can get glaucoma, there are factors that increase the risk of developing glaucoma. The following groups have an increased risk of getting glaucoma; anyone over 60, people of African descent, people who have a family history of glaucoma, and people with diabetes. The best way to protect your vision from glaucoma is to have your eyes examined through dilated pupils by an eye care professional every one to two years.

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