Glaucoma FAQ

What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and may result in vision loss and blindness. The most common form of the disease is open-angle glaucoma. With early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

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What is the optic nerve?
The optic nerve is a bundle of more than one million nerve fibers. It connects the retina to the brain. By definition, glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve.

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What is open-angle glaucoma?
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma. The “open angle” describes anatomically where the fluids filter out of the eye. In the normal eye, the clear fluid leaves the anterior chamber at the open angle where the cornea and iris meet. When the fluid reaches the angle, it flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye. Because glaucoma is often related to elevated eye pressure, assessing the angle anatomy is part of the evaluation process.

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Does increased eye pressure mean that I have glaucoma?
Elevated pressure is simply a risk factor for optic nerve damage. Increased eye pressure means you are at risk for glaucoma, but does not mean you have the disease. The diagnosis of glaucoma is determined by whether the optic nerve is damaged. If you have increased eye pressure but no damage to the optic nerve, you have “ocular hypertension,” not glaucoma. However, you are at risk. Follow the advice of your eye care professional.

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Will I develop glaucoma if I have increased eye pressure?
Not every person with increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma. Some people can tolerate higher eye pressure better than others. It is also important to realize that some people do not have elevated pressure but may develop glaucoma. Again, the pressure is only a risk factor. There are other factors that are also evaluated: corneal thickness, refractive error, family history, and the presence of other ocular problems.

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Can I develop glaucoma without an increase in my eye pressure?
Glaucoma can develop without increased eye pressure. This form of glaucoma is called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma.

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Who is at risk for open-angle glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma. Some people are at higher risk than others. They include:

  • African-Americans over age 40
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Mexican-Americans
  • People with a family history of glaucoma
  • Inflammation or uveitis in the eye, or a history of eye trauma
  • People with diabetes, myopia (nearsightedness), or extensive steroid use

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How can I prevent the disease from occurring?
At this time, we do not know how to prevent glaucoma. However, studies have shown that the early detection and treatment of glaucoma, before it causes major vision loss, is the best way to control the disease.  If you fall into one of the high-risk groups for the disease, make sure to have your eyes examined through dilated pupils every two years by an eye care professional.

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What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. It causes no pain. Vision seems normal. However, as it progresses it causes a loss of peripheral vision that can slowly creep into the center of the visual field causing blindness.

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How is glaucoma detected?
Glaucoma is detected through a comprehensive eye exam. The optic nerve is critically evaluated along with other risk factors. Additional tests are frequently performed to confirm the suspicion of glaucoma.

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Can glaucoma be cured?
There is no cure for glaucoma. Vision lost from the disease cannot be restored.

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Can glaucoma be treated?
Yes. Immediate treatment for early stage, open-angle glaucoma can delay progression of the disease. That’s why early diagnosis is very important. Glaucoma treatments include medicines, laser surgery, conventional surgery, or a combination of any of these. While these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma.

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What can I do to protect my vision?
If you are taking medicines for glaucoma, be sure to take them every day as directed by your eye care professional. People at risk for glaucoma should have a dilated eye exam at least every two years. If you have been diagnosed, you may need to see your eye care professional more often.

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