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The Invisible Eye Disease

May 10, 1999|BARBARA J. CHUCK

Glaucoma is an eye disease that can cause blindness. If caught early, however, it can usually be controlled. But because glaucoma often has no symptoms, it's important to see your eye doctor for regular exams.

The disease usually begins when pressure builds up in the eye, which can damage the optic nerve. If the nerve is damaged, it cannot send messages to the brain. There are two main kinds of glaucoma:

* Open-angle glaucoma is the most common kind, occurring slowly as people age. The drainage area in the eye becomes clogged. Not enough fluid drains, so pressure slowly builds up. This causes loss of peripheral vision. The loss is gradual, so people may not notice it.

* Closed-angle glaucoma comes on quickly. The drainage area in the eye suddenly becomes blocked and eye pressure builds rapidly. Those who have it may notice blurred vision and rainbow halos around lights, and they may experience headaches, nausea and severe pain. If not treated immediately, blindness can occur quickly.

Glaucoma can strike anyone, but the risk factors include:

* Increasing age.

* African ancestry.

* Family history.

* Previous eye surgeries or injuries.

* Health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Treating glaucoma can prevent or limit vision loss associated with the disease. Eyedrops and pills may be used to lower eye pressure, and some medicines reduce the amount of fluid your eyes produce. Still others increase drainage in the eyes. In severe cases, procedures such as surgery may be used to increase drainage.

Source: StayWell Co.

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Glaucoma

During an eye exam, a tonometer measures the pressure inside your eye. A small device may touch your eye, or a puff of air may be used.

With open-angle glaucoma, the drainage area becomes clogged. With closed-angle glaucoma, the drainage area suddenly becomes blocked. Both cause too much pressure in the eye, which in turn, can damage the optic nerve.

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