Glaucoma is a group of diseases that affect the optic nerve of the eye, and results in poor vision, especially the peripheral vision. The optic nerve is one of three parts of the visual system that needs to be healthy in order to have good vision. The first part of the visual system is the eyeball, which senses images as light enters the eye. The second part of the visual system is the brain which interprets the images as they come in. The last past of the visual system is the optic nerve, which connects the eyeball to the brain. It acts as a “wire” to connect the eyeball to the brain. In glaucoma, this “wire” becomes damaged and cannot effectively and efficiently transfer information from the eyeball to the brain, resulting in poor vision.
Although all forms of glaucoma affect the optic nerve and result in poor vision, the cause of the damage is not always the same. This is why there are dozens of different types of glaucoma. For each of the different types of damage to the optic nerve that exist, there is a different type of glaucoma.
Glaucoma is subdivided into many different categories based on many different criteria. Some divisions categorize glaucoma by age of onset. When glaucoma is subdivided like this, we find three main categories of glaucoma: congenital glaucoma, juvenile glaucoma, and adult glaucoma. However, since congenital and juvenile forms of glaucoma are not very common, few people classify glaucoma into these categories.
Another way to classify glaucoma is by its cause. If glaucoma exists because of a specific cause (ie. trauma, diabetes, or stroke of the eye), the glaucoma is referred to as a “secondary” glaucoma.This is because the glaucoma is secondary to the underlying disease. If glaucoma exists because of no known cause, the glaucoma is referred to as a “primary” glaucoma.This is similar to the diagnosis of “primary hypertension” (high blood pressure). Many Americans have high blood pressure that has an unknown, but genetically linked cause. In the same way when a patient has glaucoma with an unknown, but genetically linked cause, they are said to have “primary glaucoma”. This is one of the most common ways to classify glaucoma, and most people in the United States that have glaucoma, have a primary form of glaucoma.
Another very popular way to classify glaucoma is based on the actual anatomy variations that exist that result in the disease. These anatomy variations result in either an “open angle” in the eye, or a “narrow angle” in the eye. This is where the names, “open angle glaucoma” and “narrow angle glaucoma” come from. To find out more about open angle glaucoma, or narrow angle glaucoma, please click on the appropriate link. Keep in mind that eye anatomy variations that exist can result in glaucoma. These anatomy variations may be congenital (from birth), or secondary to trauma or disease (like diabetes). Therefore, a patient may have a “primary open angle glaucoma”, a “secondary narrow angle glaucoma”, or any of the other combinations that can be formed using these two classification systems. It is also possible for a patient to have more than one form of glaucoma. This is why diagnosing and treating glaucoma can be so challenging and should be done by an eye care professional that is highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of all forms of glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a painless disease that causes patients to gradually lose their peripheral vision. In extreme cases, people eventually lose all of their vision in either one or both of their eyes. Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be managed and treated so as to stop its progression. In the same way that a patient with high blood pressure (primary hypertension) is managed with blood pressure medicines, a glaucoma patient is managed with eye drop medications. In some instances, glaucoma can be treated with laser surgery. Sometimes this laser surgery can minimize or eliminate the need for drops. In extreme situations, some patients require operating room surgery to stabilize their glaucoma. Even with laser surgery or operating room surgery, some patients may require a lifetime of eye drop medication usage to stabilize their glaucoma. All glaucoma patients need to be followed regularly to be certain that their glaucoma is adequately managed and not progressing to blindness.
There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing glaucoma. These risk factors include: age over forty years old, African-American or Hispanic race, history of eye trauma, family history of glaucoma, and “large” optic nerves. Because glaucoma is a painless and symptomless disease that affects millions of American each year, it is important to have regular dilated eye exams by a highly trained eye care professional that is able to recognize this disease. If you have any of the risk factors listed above, or would like to be checked for glaucoma, call the doctors at the Texas Vision & Laser Center today.