Glaucoma is an eye disorder marked by increased pressure within the eye. It is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, with two out of every 100 people over age 35 having vision that is at risk from glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve. Unfortunately, there are no discernible symptoms in the early stages of the disease, and glaucoma-induced damage to your eye is irreversible.
An estimated three million Americans have glaucoma. Approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness in the U.S. Half of the people with glaucoma are usually unaware of it until serious loss of vision has occurred. If performed regularly, it can detect the disease in its early stages while serious vision loss is still preventable.
Glaucoma is also a group of disease that damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve is analogous to an electric cable that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. A healthy optic nerve is necessary for good vision.
In glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged secondary to relatively high fluid pressure inside the eye. This results in loss of peripheral vision that could eventually lead to total blindness if it’s not treated or controlled.
The most common form of glaucoma in the United States is primary open-angle glaucoma. Other forms include normal-tension glaucoma, narrow-angle glaucoma, congenital glaucoma, and secondary glaucoma (e.g. pigmentary glaucoma, pseudoexfoliative glaucoma, neovascular glaucoma, etc).
An eye examination is necessary to diagnose glaucoma. Checking the eye pressure alone is not enough to diagnose glaucoma as the pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Damage on the optic nerve related to uncontrolled eye pressure is permanent, which often goes unnoticed because only the peripheral vision is affected in the beginning.
Therefore, eye exam is critical for early detection of glaucoma. It is strongly recommended to have an eye examination to screen for glaucoma if you are above 40, or if you have a family history of glaucoma, or if you are African descent.
Once you are diagnosed with glaucoma, the objective of treatment is to reduce the pressure inside the eye. Depending on the form of glaucoma, this can be achieved with medications, laser, surgeries, or a combination of all.
The first line of treatment can be either eye drops or laser (Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty). Both are effective. Most people with glaucoma can be treated successfully with eye drops. However, as in other medications, they have side effects and cause allergy to some people. It requires daily instillation and you may need more than one type of drop to effectively control the eye pressure.
Many patients may benefit from laser treatment, which helps open the fluid outflow channels. This procedure is usually painless, carries minimal to no side effects, and is repeatable. If you respond to the laser treatment, you may not need any eye drops. The responds tend to last from months to a few years.
There is no way to prevent open-angle glaucoma, but you can prevent vision loss from the condition. Early diagnosis and careful management are the keys to preventing vision loss. Call for an appointment today especially if you have risk factors for glaucoma and have not been screened for the condition.
Types of Glaucoma
There are many types of glaucoma. The four most common varieties include:
Chronic Open-Angle Glaucoma
By far the most common type, open-angle glaucoma can steal vision so quietly that you may be unaware of any problem until your optic nerve is badly damaged. Blockages in your eye’s natural drainage system build up over time, often as a result of the natural aging process. The first symptom of open-angle glaucoma may be vision that is blurred at the edges, but by this time the optic nerve is irreparably damaged.
Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma
This type of glaucoma occurs suddenly when the iris presses against the drainage area and closes it off. Fluid backs up and pressure rises rapidly. Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include blurred vision, severe pain, nausea, vomiting and the appearance of rainbow halos around lights. Immediate medical attention is essential as angle-closure glaucoma can lead to blindness within days.
Channels within the eye can become blocked for reasons such as infection, injury, diabetes, certain drugs, hemorrhage or tumors. This condition, called secondary glaucoma, may exhibit symptoms similar to angle-closure glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma requires prompt medical attention to prevent serious vision loss.
In rare cases, the drainage system within the eye is poorly formed at birth. The natural elasticity of the infant eye may allow rising pressure to be accommodated for a while, but eventually a problem develops. The infant may be sensitive to light or may tear excessively; the front of the eye may appear cloudy or “foggy.” Signs such as these should be reported immediately to your Cataract & Laser Institute physician.