Glaucoma can cause blindness if untreated and is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. As many as 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and at least one half do not know it. Although there is no cure yet, loss of vision can be slowed or halted with medical and/or surgical treatment. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are the keys to preserving vision.
Glaucomas are a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, and can result in loss of vision and blindness. With early detection and treatment, however, serious vision loss often can be prevented. The damage is most often caused by pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure).
Glaucoma is detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam that includes the following:
- Visual acuity test. This eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
- Visual field test. This test measures your peripheral (side vision). It helps your eye care professional tell if you have lost peripheral vision, a sign of glaucoma.
- Dilated eye exam. In this exam, drops are placed in your eyes to widen, or dilate, the pupils. Your eye care professional uses a special magnifying lens to examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
- Tonometry is the measurement of pressure inside the eye by using an instrument called a tonometer. Numbing drops may be applied to your eye for this test. A tonometer measures pressure inside the eye to detect glaucoma.
- Pachymetry is the measurement of the thickness of your cornea. Your eye care professional applies a numbing drop to your eye and uses an ultrasonic wave instrument to measure the thickness of your cornea.
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 eye drops, laser trabeculoplasty, I-stent, or a combination of any of these. While these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma.
Medicines, in the form of eyedrops, are the most common early treatment for glaucoma. Taken regularly, these eyedrops lower eye pressure. Some medicines cause the eye to make less fluid. Others lower pressure by helping fluid drain from the eye. Before you begin glaucoma treatment, tell your eye care professional about other medicines and supplements that you are taking. Sometimes the drops can interfere with the way other medicines work. Glaucoma medicines need to be taken regularly as directed by your eye care professional.