Glaucoma is an eye condition that occurs when the pressure inside the eye – the intraocular pressure – builds up, squeezing the optic nerve that sends vision messages to the brain and eventually causing permanent blindness. There are two primary types of glaucoma – open-angle and angle closure. The angle refers to the opening between the iris – the colored portion of your eye – and the clear covering of the eye called the cornea. Open-angle glaucoma is far more common than angle-closure glaucoma, accounting for about 90 percent of all cases. Several other less common types of glaucoma also exist, including normal tension glaucoma which causes damage to the optic nerve even when intraocular pressure is not substantially increased.
Your eye contains a viscous (thick) fluid that helps lubricate the eye and facilitate good vision. In a healthy eye, the fluid is constantly replenished. But in glaucoma, the tiny channels that enable the eye to drain “old” fluid become blocked, resulting in fluid buildup that causes the interior pressure of the eye to rise – sometimes very quickly and dramatically (angle closure glaucoma) and sometimes more slowly over time (open-angle glaucoma). Glaucoma is much more common in people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as those who are older and those with a family history of the disease.
In many cases, glaucoma can be treated with special prescription eye drops, sometimes given in combination with oral medications to help lower the intraocular pressure. Laser and other types of surgery can also be used to “unclog” the eye's drainage canals to improve the drainage of the fluid inside the eye. In most cases, surgery is used when drops and oral medications prove ineffective in reducing intraocular pressure.
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