Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which is usually associated with high pressure inside the eye. It is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, affecting an estimated 2 million people. Loss of sight from glaucoma can be prevented through early detection and treatment by an ophthalmologist.

Eye pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal eye pressure typically ranges from 10-20 mm Hg. When your pressure is higher than 20-22 mm Hg, you may be at an increased risk for developing glaucoma.

The different types of glaucoma are:

Angle-closure glaucoma
A form of glaucoma that occurs when the fluid drainage apparatus of the eye becomes blocked, leading to a sudden and dramatic pressure increase inside the eye. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma is usually accompanied by severe eye pain or headache, blurry vision, haloes around lights, and nausea and vomiting. It must be treated immediately or blindness may result.
Open-angle glaucoma
The most common type of glaucoma, affecting more than 90 percent of adult patients. It is typically a slowly progressive, painless disease, making periodic examinations vital for both detection and treatment.

Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors for developing glaucoma. The most important of these include high pressure inside the eye, advanced age, extreme nearsightedness, African ancestry, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a family history of glaucoma. Routine eye examinations by an eye care professional are the best way to detect glaucoma.

Treatment

Glaucoma is usually controlled by eye drops used several times a day, occasionally in combination with pills. These medications work by lowering pressure inside the eye and must be taken regularly to be effective. Laser surgery can also be effective in treating both open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma. Finally, operative surgery in which a new drainage channel is created for fluid to leave the eye may be needed.

Preventing Vision Loss

Regular dilated eye examinations can help prevent vision loss from glaucoma.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having an eye examination:

  • Every 3 to 5 years if you are age 40 and over
  • Every 1 to 2 years:
    • If a family member has glaucoma
    • If you are of African ancestry
    • If you have diabetes or high blood pressure
    • If you have had a serious eye injury in the past
    • If you are taking steroid medications

UT Southwestern Medical Center offers patients individualized, leading-edge glaucoma treatment to stop the progression of this potentially blinding condition.

Our ophthalmic specialists use the latest diagnostic technologies to screen for glaucoma, including combined small-incision cataract/glaucoma surgery, Humphrey visual field analyzers, and optical coherence tomography (OCT). Once glaucoma is diagnosed, our physicians typically prescribe topical medication, which, in most cases, is effective. Other glaucoma treatments include laser surgery.