Patient Education

Frequently Asked Questions

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a complex eye disease in which circulation of the fluid in the eye is disrupted. It is similar to the blockage of a kitchen sink, leading to overflow of water. This blockage of the fluid stops the process of re-absorption of the eye fluid, leading to high pressure rise within the eye. This high pressure and other factors can ultimately affect the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects the eye and the brain like a telephone cable. Once the optic nerve is damaged, permanent vision loss can occur. Download a glaucoma brochure to learn more.

How do I know if I have glaucoma?

Complete eye exams are necessary to determine if you have glaucoma or are at risk. These examinations, performed by your eye doctor consist of:

  • Measurement of your eye pressure
  • Evaluation of optic nerve damage
  • A visual field test to measure your side vision

Who is likely to develop glaucoma?

Between 3-6 million Americans have glaucoma, and about 5,500 patients go blind from glaucoma each year.2 African Americans are four to five times more likely to develop glaucoma, and up to six times more likely to go blind from it.2

You have a high risk of developing glaucoma if:

  • You are 65 years or older; especially if you have diabetes
  • You have a family history of glaucoma
  • Your ancestry is of African descent
  • You have ever had an eye injury

These are the people who are at the highest risk for developing glaucoma. However, anyone can develop glaucoma, ranging from babies to adults.

What are the signs and symptoms of glaucoma?

In the vast majority of cases, especially in the early stages, there are few signs or symptoms. In the later stages of the disease, symptoms can occur that include:

  • Gradual loss of side or peripheral vision
  • An inability to adjust the eye to darkened rooms
  • Difficulty focusing on close work
  • Rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights

How is glaucoma treated?

Treatment varies from person to person. In 80% of glaucoma cases, medicine or laser surgery is used to control glaucoma. Another type of surgical procedure that may de done is called goniotomy. During this procedure, your eye doctor removes diseased tissue that blocks fluid from flowing out of the eye. Goniotomy procedures have been safely performed for decades in both adults and children.

However, because glaucoma worsens over time, medication and surgery may eventually become less effective. Therefore, at times, glaucoma valves are necessary. Glaucoma valves are useful alternatives in treating glaucomas that are resistant to medical therapy and conventional glaucoma surgery.3 After the valve has been implanted, the intake of medication may be reduced. (For example, if you have been taking 4 different medications before the implant, you may just need one or none after the implant.)

Do glaucoma medications have side effects?

Glaucoma medications sometimes create side effects such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches and burning of the eyes
  • Low blood pressure, reduced pulse rate, and fatigue
  • Changes in sense of taste
  • Rapid heart rate or fluctuation in heart rhythm4

References:

  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  2. Glaucoma Surgery by John Thomas, MD, Chief Editor, Bosby – Year Book, Inc. 1992.
  3. William AS. Setons in Glaucoma Surgery. In: Albert DM, Jakobiec FA, Editors. Principles and practice of ophthalmology: Clinical practice. Philadelphia: WB Saunders, 1994: 1665-1667.
  4. Glaucoma Research Foundation (www.glaucoma.org).
  5. Ophthalmic Surger Lasers. 1999;30:662-667.
  6. Huang et. al. Intermediate-Term Clinical Experience with the Ahmed Glaucoma Valve Implant. Am J Ophthalmol. 1999;127(1):27-33.