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What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a degenerative disease of the optic nerve which causes the cells of the optic nerve to die, thus resulting in blindness. The images captured by the intricate connections of the retina are sent to the brain via the optic nerve to be interpreted by the brain. Most know that glaucoma is caused by high internal pressure or intraocular pressure (IOP) but what most may not know is that roughly 50% of those with and receiving treatments for glaucoma were diagnosed with normal or even low IOP.
What Causes Glaucoma?
There are many causes for glaucoma. The most well-known cause is having an IOP that is too high which results in mechanical damage and cell death to the optic nerve.
Another cause for glaucoma which is theorized by experts is poor blood perfusion to the optic nerve resulting in cell death. Certain systemic diseases that affect blood flow may be culprits in this theory such as diabetes, hypertension, atherosclerosis, eye trauma, untreated iritis and even low blood pressure. Low blood pressure may not provide enough blood perfusion to the tissues of the optic nerve. The exact answer is unknown.
Whatever the exact cause of glaucoma the treatments are usually geared to lowering IOP with the use of eye drops. It is important to maintain a low consistant IOP pressure to reduce the severity of progression and especially to prevent an eye from going blind. Frequent office visits are important to insure that the eye drops are providing the effect desire, usually about 3 or 4 times a year. Some treatments can be as simple as one drop daily while other treatments may be more extensive, including surgical options.
What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma affects the peripheral vision until it creates total blindness. Many with glaucoma will say, "but my peripheral vision is just fine", but symptoms are often elusive until advanced or end stage of the disease. Only an optometrist or an ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat glaucoma properly. Different types of glaucoma may cause ocular discomfort but this is actually rare.
A test called visual field perimetery is used to determine the extent of damage done by glaucoma. Also a test called an OCT (ocular coherence tomography) is helpful in tracking tissue loss at a cellular or near-cellular level.
An OCT is used to study the tissue on the retina around the optic nerve. The eye doctor is looking for thinning of tissue. The OCT is a very senstive instrument to examine the retina at the cellular level, similar to that looking through a high powered microscope.