Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially within our aging population. Doctors don’t really understand why increased pressure within the eye appears to be associated with optic nerve damage. Optic nerve damage is what characterizes glaucoma. Furthermore, damage can also happen to the optic nerve without elevated intraocular pressure. However, researchers at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia are beginning to collect evidence that glaucoma may actually be a neurological disorder, indicating much broader issues.
Fifteen people with glaucoma and fifteen people without glaucoma were part of this study. They were matched according to age, race and sex and none of the participants had any mental health issues or neurological findings.
The MRIs of the brain structures of these thirty people were examined in order to identify any significant structural differences between the glaucoma group and those without glaucoma. What the researchers discovered was a significant and measurable amount of changes in the brains of glaucoma patients.
There were five brain structures that are involved in visual processing that were analyzed, all of which showed significant difference between the two groups. These five structures in the brain are involved in the vision process. It was quite evident that these structures were larger in the glaucoma group.
Although more studies need to be completed, the preliminary results strongly suggest that people with glaucoma experience complex changes in the cortical brain structure. As the changes increase so does the severity of the disease.
It is still believed that if you have a family history of glaucoma you are at a greater risk of developing it. There may be a strong genetic link. A specific type of juvenile open-angle glaucoma has been identified as having definite genetic abnormalities.
The health of our eyes as we age becomes more and more important. Regular eye exams should be part of an annual prevention protocol. There are treatments currently in use that are effective in slowing down the progress of glaucoma for many, but once there is a loss of vision, it cannot be restored.