“Glaucoma Suspect” is the term used when an individual appears to be at higher risk of developing glaucoma, but does not seem to have developed any actual disease.
There is no single test to rely on to know if a person may have glaucoma. So when some factors indicate that there may be glaucoma, but other factors seem to indicate that there is not, we use the term “Glaucoma Suspect.”
Over time, as more information is gathered, some patients will go on to be diagnosed with actual glaucoma. Many others will simply be followed closely with repeat testing, but never develop a problem.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which transmits the images you see from the eye to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers (like an electric cable with its numerous wires). Glaucoma damages those nerve fibers, which can cause blind spots and vision loss.
Glaucoma is normally a slowly progressive disease that often has no symptoms. However, once damage is done to the optic nerve, the vision loss is permanent, so it is important to detect and treat glaucoma early to avoid any vision loss.
Checking for Glaucoma
Common tests for glaucoma include measuring the intraocular pressure (IOP), visual field (side vision), pachymetry (thickness of the cornea), nerve fiber layer thickness around the optic nerve (measured by instruments called OCT, HRT or GDx), gonioscopy (a mirrored lens that looks at the drainage area of the eye), and optic nerve photographs. Probably the most important factor is the careful examination of the optic nerve itself and comparisons of those examinations over time.
Your optometrist or ophthalmologist may tell you that you are at risk for glaucoma if you have one or more risk factors, including having an elevated IOP, a family history of glaucoma, certain optic nerve characteristics, are of a particular ethnic background, or are of advanced age.
For all “Glaucoma Suspects,” it is very important that the health of your eye be closely monitored, typically once or twice a year.
Some “Glaucoma Suspects” require treatment, others do not, depending on the overall risk to the eye. For those that are treated, the goal is to lower your eye pressure to prevent or slow any vision loss. Your eye care provider will recommend treatment if the risk of vision loss is high.
Treatment often consists of eye drops but can include laser treatment or surgery to create a new drain in the eye. Glaucoma – when it happens – is a chronic disease that can be controlled but not cured. If it is decided that you should be treated for glaucoma, ongoing monitoring (every three to six months) is needed to watch for changes. Ask your eye care provider if you have any questions about glaucoma or your treatment.