What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a complex eye disease. The term “glaucoma” is actually used to describe a range of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve and can potentially cause vision loss if not properly treated. Glaucoma is the result of fluid buildup within the eye. Usually both eyes are affected by glaucoma, but the disease can progress more rapidly in one eye than the other.
Types of Glaucoma
While there are many types of glaucoma, they primarily fall into two groups:
- Open Angle Glaucoma – chronic and takes years to develop
- Closed Angle Glaucoma – acute and can occur suddenly, without warning
Unlike many eye diseases, conditions, or problems, glaucoma can damage eyesight without symptoms, pain, or obvious loss of vision. For this reason, early detection of glaucoma is extremely important.
Since glaucoma usually has no symptoms in its early stages, routine eye examinations are very important. In order to be controlled, glaucoma must be diagnosed early.
A glaucoma exam includes:
- Measuring your intraocular pressure (tonemetry)
- Inspecting the drainage angle of your eye (gonioscopy)
- Evaluating any optic nerve damage (ophthalmoscopy)
- Testing the vision field of each eye (perimetry)
When should you have a glaucoma exam?
If you are under the age of 45:
- with risk factors = every 2 years
- without risk factors = every 4 years
If you are over the age of 45:
- with risk factors = every year
- without risk factors = every 2 years
Treatment of Glaucoma
Damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed. Therefore, the main goal in managing glaucoma is to reduce the intraocular pressure around the remaining nerve fibers to ensure they receive proper nourishment and maintain the remaining function. Proper treatment usually keeps the intraocular pressure within a normal range, preventing or hindering further nerve damage and visual loss.
Eye Drops for Glaucoma
Open angle glaucoma is usually controlled with eye drops taken several times a day, sometimes in combination with pills. More than 80% of patients with open angle glaucoma can be successfully treated with a single type of medication or 2 eye drops in combination. Taking the medication as prescribed is key to successful treatment.
Laser Surgery for Glaucoma
Some patients, who experience no improvement or side effects with eye drops, opt for laser surgery. In this case, our doctors use a laser to enlarge the drain or create a hole in the iris to improve the flow of fluid and control eye pressure.
Surgical Treatment of Glaucoma
There are surgical procedures that help reduce and stabilize the intraocular pressure and prevent vision loss.
When operative surgery is needed to control glaucoma, our doctors create a new drainage channel where aqueous fluid can leave the eye.
Fortunately, technology has improved significantly for both the medication and laser treatment alternatives in glaucoma. Therefore, very few individuals ever progress to the point of surgery.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world, affecting nearly 2.2 million people. Factors that can increase a person’s risk of getting glaucoma generally include:
- Increased Intraocular Pressure (IOP)
- Increasing Age – The incidence of glaucoma increases as we get older, affecting approximately 2% of the population over the age of 40.
- Race – African-Americans have certain genetic factors that cause a higher likelihood of developing glaucoma.
- High Blood Pressure
- Family History of Glaucoma – Family history of glaucoma is a very significant risk factor.
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- Long-term Steroid Treatment
- Injury/Trauma to the Eyes