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Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders leading to progressive damage to the optic nerve, and is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in loss of vision. The optic nerve is a bundle of about one million individual nerve fibers and transmits the visual signals from the eye to the brain. The most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, can be associated with an increase of the pressure inside the eye. Not everyone with high eye pressure will develop glaucoma, and many people with normal eye pressure will develop glaucoma.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S and has many risk factors including being over 40, high eye pressure, thinner corneas, chronic eye inflammation, a family history, or using medications that increase the pressure in the eyes.
Many people with risk factors for glaucoma are followed closely as “glaucoma suspects”. These people do not have glaucoma, but are being followed for changes to the optic nerve. Changes to the nerve indicates the disease process and potentially the need for treatment.
Glaucoma develops slowly and usually without any symptoms. Many people do not become aware they have the condition until significant vision loss has occurred. It initially affects peripheral or side vision, but can advance to central vision loss.
Less common types of glaucoma, acute angle closure, pigmentary or psuedoexfoliation, usually occur abruptly due to a rapid increase of pressure in the eye. Its symptoms may include severe eye pain, nausea, redness in the eye, seeing colored rings around lights, and blurred vision.
Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early it can usually be controlled. Medicated eye drops or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. However, vision already lost to glaucoma cannot be restored which is why an annual eye examination for people at risk for glaucoma is recommended.
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