Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases which in most cases produce increased pressure within the eye. This elevated pressure is caused by a backup of fluid in the eye. Over time, it causes damage to the optic nerve. Through early detection, diagnosis and treatment, you and your doctor can help to preserve your vision.
Think of your eye as a sink, in which the faucet is always running and the drain is always open. The aqueous humor is constantly circulating through the anterior chamber. It is produced by a tiny gland, called the ciliary body, situated behind the iris. It flows between the iris and the lens and, after nourishing the cornea and lens, flows out through a very tiny spongy tissue, only one-fiftieth of an inch wide, called the trabecular meshwork, which serves as the drain of the eye. The trabecular meshwork is situated in the angle where the iris and cornea meet. When this drain becomes clogged, aqueous can not leave the eye as fast as it is produced, causing the fluid to back up. But since the eye is a closed compartment, your `sink´ doesn´t overflow; instead the backed up fluid causes increased pressure to build up within the eye. We call this open (wide) angle glaucoma.
To understand how this increased pressure affects the eye, think of your eye as a balloon. When too much air is blown into the balloon, the pressure builds, causing it to pop. But the eye is too strong to pop. Instead, it gives at the weakest point, which is the site in the sclera at which the optic nerve leaves the eye.
The optic nerve is part of the central nervous system and carries visual information from the eye to the brain. This cranial nerve is made up of over one million nerve axons, which are nerve fiber extensions of the retinal ganglion cells. When the eye pressure is increased and/or other inciting factors exist, the optic nerve becomes damaged and the retinal ganglion cells undergo a slow process of cell death termed "apoptosis." The death of the retinal cells and degeneration of the nerve fibers results in permanent vision loss. Early diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma can help prevent blindness.
Exfoliative glaucoma (pseudoexfoliation or PXE ) is another type of glaucoma that can occur with either open or closed angles. This type of glaucoma is characterized by deposits of flaky material on the front surface of the lens (anterior capsule) and in the angle of the eye. The accumulation of this material in the angle is believed to block the drainage system of the eye and raise the eye pressure. While this type of glaucoma can occur in any population, it is more prevalent in older people and people of Scandinavian descent. It has recently been shown to often be associated with hearing loss in older people.