Glaucoma is a progressive disease of the optic nerve which, if left untreated, eventually causes loss of vision. Increased pressure in the eye is the only known causal risk factor, but glaucoma can occur in the absence of raised pressure too.
Many factors including the blood flow to the eye may contribute to damage. One major known risk factor is a family history of glaucoma. Another is age — the risk of developing this disease increases substantially with age, particularly from 60 onwards. However, the disease can occur in younger patients and children, including newborns.
A disturbing fact is that in the common forms of glaucoma, damage occurs in a slowly progressive fashion without the person's knowledge. There is a constriction of the field of vision, but central vision (i.e. that used for reading), remains normal until the end stage of the disease. Nonetheless, without even being aware of it, the loss of peripheral field of vision is especially dangerous for normal activities like driving.
Glaucoma cannot be diagnosed by a simple measurement of eye pressure. The diagnosis requires a combination of pressure measurement, examination of the optic nerve and angle of the eye. Other tests may also be needed to confirm the diagnosis. The best way to detect glaucoma is to undergo a comprehensive eye examination on a regular basis, as advised by your ophthalmologist (eye specialist).
Unfortunately, any loss of visual function from glaucoma is usually permanent. The goal of treatment is to prevent the disease from interfering with quality of life for the person's life span. The treatment for most patients is to reduce the pressure in the eye and thereby control further loss of visual function. Unfortunately, this is not always successful, but early detection helps to preserve functional vision for life.
Most patients can achieve control of their pressure and thereby maintain existing vision and field of vision by the use of eye drops. The eye drops are usually required for the rest of the person's life. Some people may require laser or surgical treatment.
Last Reviewed: 16 January 2008