January is “National Glaucoma Awareness Month” and an important time to spread the word about this sight-stealing disease.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve – the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable containing numerous wires. When damage to the optic nerve fibers occurs, blind spots develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.

What Causes Glaucoma?

Clear liquid called aqueous humor circulates inside the front portion of the eye. To maintain a healthy level of pressure within the eye, a small amount of this fluid is produced constantly while an equal amount flows out of the eye through a microscopic drainage system. Because the eye is a closed structure, if the drainage area for the aqueous humor is blocked, the excess fluid cannot flow out of the eye and fluid pressure within the eye increases, pushing against the optic nerve and causing damage.

Who is at risk for Glaucoma?

Your eye care professional considers many kinds of information to determine your risk for developing the disease. The most important risk factors include:

  • Age

  • Elevated eye pressure

  • Family history of glaucoma

  • African or Hispanic ancestry

  • Farsightedness or nearsightedness

  • Past eye injuries

  • Thinner central corneal thickness

  • Systemic health problems, including diabetes, migraine headaches and poor circulation

  • Pre-existing thinning of the optic nerve.

Your eye care professional will weigh all these factors before deciding whether you need treatment for glaucoma, or whether you should be monitored closely as a potential glaucoma patient. This means your risk of developing glaucoma is higher than normal, and you need to have regular examinations to detect the early signs of damage to the optic nerve.

How is Glaucoma Detected?

Regular eye examinations are the best way to detect glaucoma. A glaucoma screening that checks only the pressure of the eye is not sufficient to determine if you have glaucoma. The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have a complete eye examination.

For more information on glaucoma visit our website at Cape Fear Eye or to schedule a comprehensive eye examination call 910.484.2284.

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