Glaucoma and Cataracts: Common diseases of the Aging Eye

Glaucoma and Cataracts: Common Diseases of the Aging Eye

Written By, Dr. John M. O’Grady, MD 


Many of us have heard of glaucoma, but what exactly is it? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve; which, is the nerve in the back of the eye and connects to the brain.  Glaucoma usually occurs, when the eye has high pressure; in-turn, causing damage to the optic nerve.

Nearly three million Americans have glaucoma and half of them do not even know they have the disease. This is because glaucoma is often, a “silent disease”. Most people do not get any symptoms until they start to lose vision. That is why it is extremely important to have regular eye exams, so it can be detected and treated.

Risk factors for glaucoma include: age over 50; family history; African American ancestry; near sightedness and farsightedness; having thin corneas, and diabetes. There are many tests that are performed to monitor glaucoma. Eye pressure readings are measured regularly. Visual field testing is done at least yearly, to make sure field of vision is not being lost. Optic nerve analysis is done visually and by computerized methods.

With early detection, glaucoma can be treated successfully. Common treatments include: daily eye drops, in office lasers, and possible surgery, for severe cases. The important thing is to have regular eye exams, so it can be treated if it is diagnosed.

Cataracts are by far the most common cause of vision loss. A cataract is when the natural lens in one’s eye becomes cloudy. With normal vision, you focus with your lens, which is clear. With age, and some other risk factors (diabetes, sun exposure, trauma, smoking, steroid use), our lens becomes cloudy instead of clear. When cloudiness occurs, it is like looking through a foggy window. Other symptoms can include glare/halos, trouble reading, difficulty with night driving, and just plain blurry vision.

Everyone eventually gets cataracts. When they do start to affect your vision they can be removed surgically. Cataract surgery is a painless outpatient procedure which usually takes less than 10 minutes to perform. It is done with an ultrasonic probe, which breaks up the cloudy lens and sucks it out. A clear implant lens is then placed back in the eye for clearer vision.

Lens implants today can correct distance vision, astigmatism, and near vision. There are many implant choices today that were not available in the past; often resulting in patients not needing glasses after surgery.

Glaucoma and cataracts both cause loss of vision; however, if detected early, both can be treated fairly easily. So again, regular eye exams are the key to maintaining healthy eyes and good vision.