Glaucoma is a disorder associated with pressure in the eye, and is characterized by damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma affects two million Americans, and half of those people are unaware they have the disease.
Approximately five to 10 million Americans have elevated eye pressure, which places them at risk for the development of glaucoma. 80,000 Americans are already blind from the disease. Overall, glaucoma occurs in two out of every 100 people, but it is much more common with increasing age, over 60.
Glaucoma usually does not cause symptoms, so most people with glaucoma are unaware they have it.
For those patients diagnosed with glaucoma, a treatment and follow-up plan will be organized. The goal of glaucoma therapy is to preserve the patient’s present level of vision, i.e., to prevent further peripheral, and sometimes central, vision loss. The treatment plan will vary depending on the type of glaucoma diagnosed, the degree to which the glaucoma has progressed, the patient’s underlying risk factors, and many other variables that are beyond the scope of this brief overview. In general, medicine (both topical eye-drops and oral medications), laser procedures and operative procedures are all utilized in attempt to preserve vision.
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Patients are followed at variable intervals according to the severity of glaucoma disease and response to treatment, however, most patients will be evaluated two to four times a year with pressure measurements, optic nerve evaluations, and visual field testing. In some cases, despite the most meticulous care and aggressive management, patients will continue to lose vision. In the majority of cases when patients are diagnosed early in the course of their disease and are compliant with the ophthalmologist’s advice, useful vision can be maintained.
Glaucoma is much more complex than most patients understand. For this reason, glaucoma sub-specialist ophthalmologists train an additional one to two years beyond the three to four years of general ophthalmology residency training. It’s imperative to choose a trusted and experienced doctor for your glaucoma management.