Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

How does glaucoma damage vision?

In the front of the eye is a space called the anterior chamber. A clear fluid flows continuously in and out of the chamber and nourishes nearby tissues. The fluid leaves the chamber at the open angle where the cornea and iris meet. When the fluid reaches the angle, it flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye.

Sometimes, when the fluid reaches the angle, it passes too slowly through the meshwork drain. As the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, open-angle glaucoma--and vision loss--may result. That is why controlling pressure inside the eye is important.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form in the US. It usually affects people over age 40, and blacks are much more susceptible than whites. About three million Americans have the disease, and half of them do not know they have it. An estimated 80,000 people in the US are legally blind, in both eyes, from glaucoma. It is the principal cause of blindness among blacks, and the second-leading cause (after age-related macular degeneration) of blindness in the whole American population.

 

How will I know if I have glaucoma?

Glaucoma is silent. There is no pain in glaucoma and no changes in vision at first, even though the optic nerve is slowly being damaged. This is why there is a great need to diagnose the disease early, before there is any loss of vision. If it is detected early, before there is vision loss, glaucoma can be controlled, so visit your ophthalmologist regularly. There is no cure for glaucoma, and any vision lost to the disease cannot be brought back.

What is Schepens Eye Research Institute doing about it?

While current treatments can control pressure inside the eye, doctors cannot reverse damage to the optic nerve once it has occurred.  Scientists at the Institute are trying to change that.  Current research includes:

  • Stem cell therapies for repairing the optic nerve.

  • Stimulating optic nerve regeneration by removing barriers to regrowth through drug or gene therapies.

  • Low-vision aids for people who have sustained considerable and irreversible loss of their visual field due to glaucoma, and who want to lead as normal a life as possible.

  • Study of immune-based glaucoma.