Glaucoma is an eye disease that progresses slowly and painlessly steals away sight. Glaucoma is commonly called the silent thief of sight because it has no symptoms—it does not make your eyes red or cause pain. However, it is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States, and half of the people who have glaucoma don’t know that they have the disease and are not aware that they are losing their vision.
The cause of glaucoma is unknown, but there are several risk factors that increase your risk of developing glaucoma. These include high eye pressure (called intraocular pressure, or IOP), older age, being African-American or Hispanic, and having a family history of glaucoma. Anyone with any of these risk factors should get regular eye examinations to look for glaucoma.
Glaucoma damages vision by destroying the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, and carries visual information to your brain for processing. When the optic nerve is damaged from glaucoma, you lose your vision. Your peripheral vision—or side vision—is lost first. If the glaucoma remains untreated, the vision loss creeps in toward the center, first causing tunnel vision, and then, eventually, blindness.
Annual eye examinations are recommended for those over the age of 40 to screen for eye conditions such as glaucoma. The damage of glaucoma is irreversible, but can be slowed or stopped with proper treatment.