Glaucoma is the term applied to a group of eye diseases that gradually lose vision by permanently damaging the optic nerve. This nerve transmits visual images to the brain. The leading cause of irreversible blindness, glaucoma often produces no symptoms until it is too late, and vision loss has begun.
Glaucoma is a disease of the major nerve of vision, called the optic nerve. The optic nerve receives light-generated nerve impulses from the retina. It transmits these to the brain, where we recognize those electrical signals as vision. Glaucoma is characterized by a particular pattern of progressive damage to the optic nerve that generally begins with a slight loss of side vision (peripheral vision). If glaucoma is not diagnosed and treated, it can progress to loss of central vision and blindness.
Glaucoma is usually, but not always, associated with elevated pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure). Generally, this elevated eye pressure leads to damage to the eye (optic) nerve. In some cases, glaucoma may occur in the presence of normal eye pressure. This form of glaucoma is believed to be caused by poor blood flow regulation to the optic nerve.
Worldwide, glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness. As many as 6 million individuals are blind in both eyes from this disease. In the United States alone, according to one estimate, more than 3 million people have glaucoma. As many as half of these individuals with glaucoma may not know that they have the disease. They are unaware of the disease’s presence because glaucoma initially causes no symptoms. The subsequent loss of side vision (peripheral vision) is usually not recognized.
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