Glaucoma Explained: The 3 Most Common Questions from Patients

As an Optometrist who is experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease, I’ve had many patients ask me about Glaucoma.  I have studied Glaucoma and lectured to both peers and students about this group of diseases.  Because I am so comfortable with diagnosing and managing Glaucoma, it is easy to forget just how scary this diagnosis can be to a patient who is hearing about this disease for the first time.

To aid patients and family members who are curious or concerned about Glaucoma, I put together a list of the 3 top questions asked by patients diagnosed with Glaucoma.  Patient education is always the key to the best outcome.  A patient who understands their ocular condition will likely receive the best care and treatment plan.  Use this list to get a conversation going with your doctor!


1)      What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve in a specific way.  The optic nerve is like the superhighway that connects the eye to the brain.  Damage to this nerve from Glaucoma impairs the signal that travels from the eye to the brain and can ultimately result in vision loss.


The type of Glaucoma someone has can be caused by several factors.  These factors can include high pressure inside the eye, decreased blood flow to the optic nerve, autoimmune disease, pigment blocking the flow of fluid inside the eye, a small or “narrow” eye that blocks the flow of fluid inside the eye, or systemic illnesses like diabetes.


Although Glaucoma can be caused by multiple factors, each cause results in damage to the optic nerve.  The eye doctor who manages your Glaucoma should understand the type of Glaucoma you have in order to create the appropriate treatment plan.



2)      How do I know if I have Glaucoma?

One of the most difficult things about managing Glaucoma is that the disease has no symptoms in its earliest stages.  However, if left untreated, Glaucoma can result in profound and permanent vision loss. 


Another challenge in Glaucoma diagnosis and management is that there is no quick and easy screening tool for Glaucoma.  Other diseases are more easily screened, and patients can be quickly made aware of their condition. 


For example, High Blood Pressure can have no initial symptoms, but this condition is easily detected by using a blood pressure cuff. High Blood Pressure is so easily detected that many pharmacies have installed blood pressure stations where patients can have their blood pressure assessed quickly and easily. This is a great public service – giving the public increased awareness of an asymptomatic disease that, left unchecked, can result in significant morbidity and mortality.  


Early Glaucoma, however, can only be detected by a trained eye physician.  There are several specialized tests that must be performed to determine the presence of early Glaucoma.  If Glaucoma remains undiagnosed until the patient notices symptoms, the disease has already progressed to an advanced stage.  This is one of the reasons why yearly visits to an eye doctor is so important.


3)      Is Glaucoma treatable?

The good news about Glaucoma is that it is a very treatable condition.  The earlier Glaucoma is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat!  The eye doctor who diagnosis Glaucoma in a patient will determine the underlying cause of the disease and will design a treatment plan that best fits the cause.  Treatment usually includes daily eye drops but may include laser or surgical treatments. 

Hearing the word “Glaucoma” is often very scary for patients.  Finding an eye doctor who is an expert in treating this group of diseases is the first step in making sure Glaucoma never affects your vision and making the treatment less scary.

One of my goals at The Eye Doctor is to make expert level Glaucoma care easily accessible.  If you currently have Glaucoma and would like a second opinion, would like a more convenient location for your Glaucoma care, or if you are overdue for an eye exam … consider making an appointment at THE EYE DOCTOR. 


Wishing you good health,

Amy Falk, OD, MBA