Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.
Increased eye pressure means you are at risk for glaucoma, but does not mean you have the disease. A person has glaucoma only if the optic nerve is damaged. If you have increased eye pressure but no damage to the optic nerve, you do not have glaucoma, however, you are at risk.
In the front of the eye is a space called the anterior chamber. A clear fluid flows continuously in and out of the chamber and nourishes nearby tissues. The fluid leaves the chamber at the open angle where the cornea and iris meet. When the fluid reaches the angle, it flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye.
Sometimes, when the fluid reaches the angle, it passes too slowly through the meshwork drain. As the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. With open-angle glaucoma, when the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure vision loss may result. That's why controlling pressure inside the eye is important. Follow the advice of your eye care professional.
Not every person with increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma. Some people can tolerate higher eye pressure better than others. Also, a certain level of eye pressure may be high for one person but normal for another. Glaucoma can develop without increased eye pressure. This form of glaucoma is called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma. It is not as common as open-angle glaucoma.
Anyone can develop glaucoma. Some people are at higher risk than others. They include:
- African Americans over age 40.
- Everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans.
- People with a family history of glaucoma.
Whether you develop glaucoma depends on the level of pressure your optic nerve can tolerate without being damaged. This level is different for each person. That's why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is very important. It can help your eye care professional determine what level of eye pressure is normal for you.