Announcer: In the United States, about three million people suffer from glaucoma, although as many as half of them may not know it yet. While it can strike anyone, the risk is much greater among people over the age of 60, among people with a family history of glaucoma, and among those with diabetes. The risk is even higher for African-Americans over age 40, among whom it is the number one cause of blindness in the U.S. Blacks are five times more likely than whites to get glaucoma, they're four times more likely to be blinded by it, and because the disease tends to strike them earlier and progress more rapidly, blacks between the ages of 45 and 64 are 15 times more likely to be blinded by glaucoma than whites of the same age. While doctors have identified several different types of glaucoma, the most common by far, accounting for over 80% of all cases, is called "open angle glaucoma."
Doctor: Open angle glaucoma is a disease that involves the drainage system within the eye. At the front of the eye is a small space called the anterior chamber. Now, through it flows the aqueous humor -- this is a clear fluid which bathes and nourishes both the lens and the cornea. In the normal eye, this fluid forms and drains freely. But, with glaucoma, the fluid drains too slowly, and too much of it builds up, creating pressure within the eye. If this pressure isn't controlled, it will increase to a level that begins to damage the optic nerve -- the pathway of images from the eye to the brain -- resulting in a loss of sight.
Announcer: That's the bad news. The good news is that glaucoma can be treated. In most cases, it can be controlled with medication -- with drops or pills that can reduce pressure by causing the eye to make less fluid or drain it more freely. In addition, some cases may be treated using a procedure in which a laser -- a tiny, high-energy beam of light -- is aimed at the ducts through which the fluid exits, enlarging them to let it flow more easily. Laser surgery is generally used in conjunction with drops or pills. Conventional surgery may also be used, but only when other medical treatments become ineffective.