Glaucoma is not a single disease, but is caused by a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. It’s most often characterized by a dangerous increase in fluid pressure in the eye that can eventually kill the optic nerve and lead to vision loss. The result in decreased peripheral vision and, eventually, blindness. Glaucoma is similar to ocular hypertension but with accompanying optic nerve damage and vision loss.

However glaucoma is not simply a case of high eye pressure. Ninety percent of people with elevated pressure do not have glaucoma and up to a third of those with glaucoma have a normal eye pressure. The disease is more common with advancing age and in women. Because pain is generally not associated with the condition, nearly half of those with glaucoma do not know they have the disease.

Generally, initial treatment of glaucoma involves beta-blocker eye drops to reduce eye pressure. Laser surgery called trabeculoplasty can also be employed. Tiny holes are opened where the cornea and iris meet to increase aqueous humor drainage. Another procedure called trabeculectomy creates an artificial drainage area in cases of advanced glaucoma when there is optic nerve damage and the pressure continues to soar. The final option is a drainage device, which the surgeon implants in the eye to improve fluid drainage.

Glaucoma FAQs

How prevalent is the disease?
Glaucoma affects an estimated 3 million Americans, with 120,000 blind due to the condition.

Who’s at the most risk for glaucoma?
If you’re over age 60, African-American, diabetic or have a family member with glaucoma, you are at higher risk for glaucoma than others.

Why do I taste bitterness after putting glaucoma eye drops into my eyes?
There are drainage channels in the inner corner of the eyes that drain into the nose and mouth. This is perfectly normal.

Is there any special way I should take my glaucoma eye drops?
The most important thing to remember when taking glaucoma medications is to take them as directed by your doctor and to take them continuously.