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Glaucoma Q&A with Dr. Gustafson

Elderly Woman sitting on bench in park

Q: What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease process in which pressure builds up inside of the eye and damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the nerve that sends the information from your eyes back to your brain. Once the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral or side vision loss occurs.

Q: What causes glaucoma?
There are a number of different types of glaucoma, and the exact cause for glaucoma is still unknown. The most common type of glaucoma results when the fluid pressure inside of the eye increases. This can be caused by certain medications, injuries to the eye, or an abnormal eye structure.

Q: Who gets glaucoma?
Glaucoma is more common in people over the age of 40, however, a congenital form of glaucoma does exist that occurs rarely in children. African American people over 40 and Hispanic people over 60 have an increased risk of glaucoma. A family history of glaucoma is also a significant risk factor for developing glaucoma. Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease may be at greater risk of glaucoma, as well.

Q: How is glaucoma harmful to vision?
The elevated eye pressure that is typical in glaucoma gradually damages the optic nerve and progressively decreases peripheral or side vision.

Q: Will I go blind from glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the US. If glaucoma is left untreated blindness eventually results. Fortunately, glaucoma is very treatable and when patients follow treatment regimens glaucoma is manageable for most patients.

Q: How can I tell if I have glaucoma?
Typically there are no symptoms of glaucoma which is why it is so critical to have regular eye examinations. Once patients notice a decrease in their side vision from glaucoma the disease process is often quite advanced.

Q: How is glaucoma detected?
Glaucoma is detected by a number of tests. The intraocular pressure (pressure inside of the eye) is measured during comprehensive examinations to determine if it is in the normal range. Patients will recognize the “air puff” test as a common way to measure eye pressure. Visual field tests measure the peripheral vision to ensure it has not changed and is normal for the patient’s age. The optometrist always looks at the inside of the eye during an exam to get a direct view of the optic nerve to assess if glaucoma is present. Additional tests such as retinal photos and laser scans of the retina help the optometrist to gauge if a patient has glaucoma or is at risk for glaucoma.

Q: How is glaucoma treated?
Glaucoma is typically treated with eye drops to lower the pressure inside of the eye. There are numerous surgical treatments for glaucoma which are used when the drops are no longer effective for an individual patient.

Q: Will my vision be restored after treatment?
Unfortunately, no. Any vision loss from glaucoma is permanent. Treatment of glaucoma is aimed at preserving vision and preventing vision loss. This is again another reason why it is important to have regular eye examinations to screen for risk of glaucoma.

Q: Can glaucoma be prevented?
Glaucoma isn’t preventable but there are things to do to ensure early detection and reduce your risk for glaucoma. See an optometrist every 1-2 years (as directed by the optometrist) for a comprehensive eye examination to monitor for any changes that would indicate glaucoma. Know your family history and if you have a family history of glaucoma share that information with your health care providers. Regular exercise, as prescribed by your physician, can help reduce your eye pressures and reduce the risk of glaucoma. Lastly, wear eye protection when working with power tools or playing sports such as racquetball or basketball.

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