Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve. When the pressure inside the eye rises, the optic nerve is damaged. Because the optic nerve connects the eye to the brain, glaucoma affects the transmission of information from the eye to the brain, resulting in eventual vision loss. The condition often develops over many years without causing pain or other noticeable symptoms, so you may not experience vision loss until the disease has progressed. Once diagnosed, glaucoma may cause irreversible optic nerve damage and may lead to blindness if not treated. Early detection with a comprehensive eye exam is recommended to help prevent vision loss from glaucoma.
TYPES OF GLAUCOMA
There are two primary types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. The “angle” refers to the drainage angle, located at the juncture of the iris and the pupil that controls the outflow of fluid. The eye continually produces a clear fluid, and in a healthy eye this fluid drains out of the eye through the drainage angle to keep the pressure inside the eye steady.
In open-angle glaucoma, which is the more common type of the disease, fluid can access the drainage angle, but is not able to drain properly because the drainage angle becomes clogged like a kitchen or shower drain. This causes fluid to slowly build up in the eye, gradually elevating the intraocular pressure. As the intraocular pressure increases, it presses on the nerve fibers of the optic nerve, gradually depriving the nerve of the nutrients and oxygen it needs. Eventually, the high pressure causes nerve damage and vision loss.
Angle-closure glaucoma is the less common, yet more serious type of glaucoma. It occurs when the drainage angle is blocked and the fluid inside the eye cannot reach it. This causes a rapid buildup of fluid and a spike in intraocular pressure. Angle-closure glaucoma is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate professional attention to prevent permanent vision loss.
In cases of open-angle glaucoma, there are often no symptoms until the late stages of the disease because the increase in fluid buildup and intraocular pressure happens slowly over time.
In the case of an angle-closure attack, symptoms do occur, and may include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Halo effects around lights
- Painful and / or reddened eyes
- Nausea and / or vomiting
During your examination in Fredericksburg, your eye pressure, the condition of the optic nerve, and your peripheral vision will be measured. If signs of glaucoma exist, more tests will be conducted. At Vista Eye, our doctors use an optical coherence tomography (OCT) to measure the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer, which is the tissue directly affected by glaucoma. Thin nerve fiber readings may indicate the onset of glaucoma and the need for further testing. Dr. Jani will create a customized glaucoma treatment plan to help preserve and maintain the best possible vision for you. Regular eye exams help to monitor the changes in your eyesight and to determine whether you may develop glaucoma.
GLAUCOMA RISK FACTORS
People at high risk for glaucoma include those who are:
- Very nearsighted people (high myopia)
- People over the age of 40
- People with family history of glaucoma
- People with systemic diseases such as diabetes, anemia, or hardening of the arteries
- African-American or Hispanic/Latino
- Long-term steroid users
When glaucoma is detected early, it can usually be controlled and further vision loss can be prevented. Treatments include:
MEDICATION AND PRESCRIPTION EYE DROPS
Usually the first line of defense against glaucoma is the use of special medication and eyedrops to lower eye pressure. These medications work either by reducing the amount of fluid the eye produces or by helping fluid drain from the eye. Glaucoma medications must be taken regularly as directed by our doctors; regular use is very important, even if there are no noticeable symptoms.
Another treatment option is laser therapy to help fluid drain from the eye. A procedure called a selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) involves using a laser to spread open the drainage angle’s meshwork to promote better outflow of fluid.
Traditional glaucoma surgery, called trabeculectomy, involves removing a small piece of tissue from the eye to create a new channel, called a filtration bleb, for the fluid to drain from the eye.
Sometimes tiny drainage tubes or “stents” can be implanted in the eye to send the fluid into a collection area, or reservoir.
CAN GLAUCOMA BE PREVENTED?
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent glaucoma, some eye experts believe that healthy lifestyle habits can reduce the risk of the disease. For example, studies have shown that exercising regularly may lower the risk of glaucoma. Eating a balanced diet, not smoking and staying physically active can also help prevent systemic diseases, like diabetes, which can lead to glaucoma and other eye problems.
Having regular eye exams is critical to catching signs of glaucoma in its earliest stages, when it can be more easily managed.
CONTACT VISTA EYE TODAY
At Vista Eye, we want you to know that glaucoma is a potentially serious eye disease and that we have the expertise to diagnose, manage, and treat all forms of this potentiallysight-threatening condition. Please contact Vista Eye for more information on glaucoma, or to schedule an appointment by calling toll free (888) 393-5264.