In glaucoma, the optic nerve gets damaged. A portion of the optic nerve may be assessed during the eye exam, where it can be seen as a round structure (optic disc), with the pink or reddish section representing the neural tissue that takes the visual information to the brain. The whitish central part represents absence of neural tissue, and it is called the “cup”. Some amount of cupping is normal, but excessive cupping, or an increase in the amount of cupping over time, suggests glaucoma. There are many blood vessels that emerge from the optic disc to the retina.
Glaucoma causes loss of the neural reddish tissue and there is progressive cupping of the optic disc – enlargement of the whitish central part.
Vid. 1. Animation - Animation of real glaucomatous optic neuropathy process.
Fig. 1. Normal Appearing Optic Disc: A normal optic disc shows a healthy and thick appearance of the neural tissue (reddish part), associated with a small cup (whitish central part).
Fig. 2. Glaucomatous appearing optic disc: Loss of the neural reddish tissue and increase of the optic disc cupping - enlargement of the whitish central part. There is an hemorrhage at the optic disc margin – which is usually related to uncontrolled glaucomatous disease
Fig. 3. End stage Glaucomatous Optic Disc: In end-stage glaucoma, there is almost no more neural tissue and eventually a total cupping of the disc can be observed.
It is important for you to get yourself regularly screened for glaucoma. If you have been diagnosed to have glaucoma, effective treatment options are now available and regular treatment and follow up can help you to preserve your vision for your lifetime, avoiding unnecessary fear of going blind.
You can live happily with glaucoma and enjoy an excellent quality of life, particularly if the disease is detected early and treated in time. Always remember that once you have glaucoma, you will have to be under the care of an eye doctor for the rest of your life.
There is a lot of research going on and new treatments may become available for glaucoma in the near future.