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Expert Care for Glaucoma at Drexel Eye Physicians

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve caused by pressures in the eye that are too high.

More than three million Americans have glaucoma, yet only half know that they have this eye disease, which is the second leading cause of blindness. Approximately 120,000 Americans have lost their sight due to glaucoma.

Glaucoma typically shows no symptoms until the disease reaches advanced stages. This leads to the large number of people who have it and don’t know it, which is why regular eye exams and testing for glaucoma are so important.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve caused by pressures in the eye that are too high. While there are several types of glaucoma, the most common one is primary open-angle glaucoma. In this type, the high pressure occurs when fluid drains too slowly out of the eye, resulting in damage to the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. As nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning with peripheral (side) vision. The disease doesn't affect central vision until it becomes more advanced and, at that point, it is more difficult to treat.

Risk Factors for Glaucoma

Although anyone can get glaucoma, some individuals are at higher risk. Family heredity plays a primary role in this disease, so if glaucoma is in your family history, it’s important to be tested regularly.

African-Americans are also at high risk. Glaucoma is six times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians, and African-Americans age 45 to 65 are 14 to 17 times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians with the disease in the same age range, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Other high-risk groups include people over 60, diabetics and people who are severely nearsighted.

While glaucoma occurs more often in older people, there are a considerable amount of Americans under the age of 50 suffering from the disease. It’s important for every young adult to be tested every two years. If someone in your family has glaucoma, you should get tested annually.

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If you think you're suffering from an eye condition or would simply like an eye exam, we encourage you to call 215.762.EYES (3937) and schedule an appointment with a Drexel Eye Physician.

Testing and Treatment for Glaucoma

To test for glaucoma, our doctors use eye drops to dilate the patient’s eyes so that we can examine the optic nerve. If we see anything suspicious, we conduct visual field screening to see if the patient has any loss of vision. The visual field screening tests the patient’s side, or peripheral, vision.

Our doctors can also measure the pressure in a patient’s eye using a tonometer. During this test, your doctor places a numbing eye drop in your eye. Then you sit at a slit-lamp, resting your chin and forehead on a support that keeps your head steady. The lamp, which lets your doctor see a magnified view of your eye, is moved forward until the tonometer, a plastic prism, barely touches the cornea to measure your intraocular pressure (IOP). The test is quick, easy and painless.

Routine glaucoma testing can save people from going blind. While there is currently no way to prevent or cure glaucoma, there are several proven treatments to slow the progression of the disease.

A patient diagnosed with glaucoma has several treatment options. Topical medications in the form of eye drops reduce pressure in the eye either by slowing the flow of fluid into the eye or by improving fluid drainage. These eye drops are easy to use and usually are needed only once or twice daily. With proper management, eye drops can be effective in preventing progression of the disease.

In cases where the disease progresses despite the use of eye drops, laser treatment is another option. In this painless procedure, which can be done right in our ophthalmologist's office, a laser is applied to the areas where fluid drains from the eye to improve the drainage and reduce pressure. Patients who have this treatment may also need to continue using eye drops.

Surgery is usually reserved for patients whose pressure cannot be controlled with eye drops or laser treatment. In a surgical treatment, our doctors create a new site in the eye to filter and drain fluid.

Generally, glaucoma is a very slow progressing disease and, if diagnosed early, the patient has a good chance of keeping the disease under control and retaining vision. Speak with your ophthalmologist during your next eye exam to discuss baseline testing. If any warning signs exist, they can refer you to a glaucoma specialist.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

The images being used are for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted is a model.

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