Understanding Glaucoma and Your Vision

What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition that causes damage to the optic nerve fibers and can lead to loss of vision. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers that connect the brain to the eye, and transmits the images we see. Damage to these optic nerve fibers can cause blind spots to develop which usually go undetected by patients until significant damage has already occurred, and can potentially cause blindness. Early detection by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) and treatment are the best way to prevent damage to the optic nerve and vision loss from glaucoma.

What causes Glaucoma?
The most common cause of glaucoma is elevated eye pressure. This occurs when the normal circulation of a clear fluid within the front portion of the eye is blocked, causing the pressure within that compartment to rise. This results in eventual damage to the optic nerve fibers.

What are the different types of Glaucoma?
The most common type is called open angle glaucoma. This refers to the angle or space where the microscopic drainage system is located inside the eye, between the iris and the cornea. The drainage of the clear fluid (called aqueous humor) becomes deficient over time, and results in the eye pressure gradually increasing slowly over time, and potential damage to the optic nerve. In the early stages, there are typically no symptoms.
In some patients, the optic nerve fibers can become affected by even normal pressure (normal or low pressure glaucoma) and are at also at risk for damage. In both scenarios, treatment is needed to prevent further vision loss.

Another type of glaucoma is called closed-angle glaucoma. In this type, the angle through which the fluid drains is too narrow, and can cause the eye pressure to rise abruptly, referred to as an acute angle closure attack. Symptoms may include blurred vision, severe eye pain, eye redness, seeing rainbow colored halos around lights, headache, and nausea/vomiting along with your eye symptoms. This is a true eye emergency and must be diagnosed and treated quickly. Call your ophthalmologist immediately or go to the emergency room if you experience two or more of these symptoms together. Most patients with closed-angle glaucoma develop it slowly over time without these symptoms prior to an attack.

Who is at risk for Glaucoma?
The ophthalmologist will inquire about specific factors that can increase the risk of glaucoma, such as a history of previous elevated eye pressure, family history of glaucoma, past eye injuries, previous or current use of certain medications (for example, steroids), and a history of systemic conditions including hypertension, diabetes, and vascular disease. Other risk factors include near sightedness (myopia) and African or Hispanic ethnicity. All of these factors are considered before deciding whether treatment is required, or whether close monitoring for potential glaucoma is sufficient. In both cases, careful and frequent examinations are needed in order to detect early damage to the optic nerve and monitor eye pressure.

How is Glaucoma detected?
A comprehensive eye examination by your ophthalmologist on a regular basis is the best way to detect glaucoma. Testing will include measuring vision, eye pressure and a complete examination of the front and back portions of the eye. Computerized perimeter field testing and imaging of the optic nerve may be recommended and repeated on a regular basis to monitor for any changes in your condition. Other tests such as corneal thickness and inspection of the angle inside your eye may also be done.

How is Glaucoma treated?
The main objective is to prevent further damage to the optic nerve by lowering the eye pressure. Eye drops, oral medication, laser surgery and surgery in the operating room can be used alone or in combination to achieve this, along with periodic examinations to monitor the eye pressure and make adjustments to your treatment regimen if necessary.  In summary, a comprehensive medical eye examination by an  ophthalmologist can help detect glaucoma at its earliest stage and prevent unnecessary vision loss.

For more information, contact any of the Eye Care Physicians & Surgeons of New Jersey offices or visit

As seen in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman


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