January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

What is Glaucoma?

Wow! That’s a loaded question, and I’m glad to get that question from patients every day.   I’m so glad  because a better public awareness of glaucoma will be key to preventing the blinding effects of the disease.

Statistics and scientific data are a little boring sometimes, but  the one statistic that I would like to share is that glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness in the U.S.   And what really speeds up my receding hairline, besides genetics, is that glaucoma is also a preventable source of vision loss.  Ok, one more statistic and then I promise no more–   As many as 4 million people in the U.S. have glaucoma and half of them are not aware of it.

What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a progressive, irreversible deterioration of the optic nerve which causes blindness.  There are several different types of glaucoma, each having its own unique characteristics, but the common theme is damage to the optic nerve.     Consider these two pictures of optic nerves below.    The one on the left is a healthy optic nerve, and the one on the right has glaucoma.

The parallel lines in each picture are pointing to the edges of the optic “cup.”   The cup in the nerve is basically a hole that allows the blood vessels to enter the back of the eye.   Since it is a hole, there is no nerve tissue there.   Surrounding the cup, you’ll see reddish-pinkish tissue…that is healthy optic nerve tissue sending vision back to the brain.   We need as much of that tissue as possible to maintain a full field of vision.   In the picture on the right, that cup has expanded and the optic nerve has lost a significant amount of optic nerve tissue–which resulted in a severely reduced visual field for the individual.   This loss, unfortunately, is permanent and it never produced any pain symptoms which would have made the individual aware of the damage occurring.

As a result of this, glaucoma is often referred to the “silent thief of sight.”   However, regular eye exams with an optometrist can detect these changes early, and early detection is the key to effective treatment.

Please feel free to email me any questions about this or other eye care related concerns at doctor@clearvieweye.net

Take care,

Dr. Beach