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Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. When damage occurs to the optic nerve, blind spots develop. The blind spots can go undetected until the optic nerve becomes significantly damaged. Blindness occurs when the entire optic nerve is destroyed.

Glaucoma can cause blindness if left untreated.  Only about half of the estimated three million Americans who have glaucoma are aware that they have this condition.  Early in the disease, there are no symptoms and the disease progresses slowly.  In this way, glaucoma can cause gradual loss of vision.  Early detection and treatment by your ophthalmologist are keys to preventing damage to the optic nerve and blindness.  

The front part of the eye is filled with a clear fluid called intraocular fluid or aqueous humor.  The fluid flows out through the pupil. It is then absorbed into the bloodstream through the eye’s drainage system.   Proper drainage helps keep eye pressure at a normal level. The production, flow, and drainage of this fluid is an active continuous process that is needed for the health of the eye.  

Because the eye is a closed structure, if the drainage area or drainage angle is blocked, excess fluid cannot flow out of the eye.  Pressure within the eye will increase and push against the optic nerve, resulting in damage.

Types of Glaucoma

There are several types of glaucoma.  The two main types are primary open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma.

Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma in the United States.  As we age the risk of developing chronic open angle glaucoma increases.  Pressure within the eye gradually increases as the drainage angle of the eye becomes less efficient.    It is necessary to receive treatment to prevent further vision loss.  In the early stages, open angle glaucoma has no symptoms and vision may remain normal.  Blank spots begin to appear in the field of vision as the optic nerve becomes more damaged.  The blank spots won’t be noticed in day-to-day activities until the optic nerve is significantly damaged.  Blindness results when all of the optic nerve fibers die. 


Closed angle glaucoma is much less common than open angle glaucoma.  In some eyes the iris (colored part of the eye) is too close to the drainage angle.  In these eyes, the iris can be pushed forward, blocking the drainage channel completely.  Pressure inside the eye builds and causes an acute closed-angle attack. 


It is a true medical emergency and you should contact Dr. Harkins if you have any of the following symptoms:
●    Blurred Vision
●    Severe Eye Pain
●    Rainbow-colored halos around lights
●    Nausea and vomiting
●    Headache

You may develop closed angle glaucoma slowly without any symptoms prior to an attack. 

Important Risk Factors for developing glaucoma
●    People over 60 years of age
●    Family history of glaucoma
●    African ancestry
●    Hispanic ancestry
●    Nearsightedness or farsightedness
●    Past eye injuries
●    Elevated eye pressure    
●    Health problems, to include diabetes, poor circulation, and migraine headaches.
●    Pre-existing thinning of the optic nerve
●    Thinner central corneal thickness.

Dr. Harkins will weigh all of these factors in deciding whether you need to be treated for glaucoma or whether you should be closely monitored as a potential glaucoma patient.  You may need to have regular examinations to detect the early signs of damage to your optic nerve.

Early Detection

The best way to detect glaucoma early is to have regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist.  A glaucoma screening that checks only the pressure of your eye is not sufficient to determine if you have glaucoma.  The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have a complete eye examination from your ophthalmologist. 

Vision loss can be prevented
Regular eye exams can prevent vision loss.

You should schedule an exam if you fit any of the following criteria:
●    If you have symptoms of or risk factors for glaucoma at any age
●    Adults 65 years of age or older should have regular screenings
●    Adults 40 years of age should have a complete screening evaluation


Damage which has already been caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed.  However, lowering the eye pressure can help prevent further damage.  The eye pressure can be lowered by various methods.  Eye drops, laser surgery, and surgery in the operating room are used to lower the eye pressure and prevent further progression of glaucoma.  Treatment of glaucoma will require periodic examinations to monitor the disease and make adjustments to treatment.

Click on the link below to read more about Glaucoma.

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