Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of vision loss in adults over the age of sixty. It’s called the silent thief of sight because it often doesn’t present many noticeable symptoms in the early stages.
However, any vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible. While glaucoma isn’t curable, it is manageable and can be treated to halt its progression.
When caught early, treatment can slow the progression of the eye condition and prevent vision loss. This is why regular eye exams are so important.
During a routine eye exam, your eye doctor will be able to detect any changes in your eyes that may signify glaucoma. Keep reading to learn more about glaucoma, including who is most at risk for the eye condition and how it’s treated!
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the name given to a group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects your eye to your brain.
When the optic nerve becomes damaged, your brain doesn’t receive all the necessary information from the eye to allow you to see properly. In almost all cases, optic nerve damage is caused by high eye pressure.
Fluid, called aqueous, naturally flows through the eye to keep it healthy. When the eye creates too much fluid or if the fluid is not able to leave the eye at a consistent rate, it can build up, causing increased pressure.
This pressure, called intraocular pressure, or IOP, can damage the optic nerve over time. There are many different kinds of glaucoma.
Most kinds of glaucoma cause gradual vision loss, including the most common form: open-angle glaucoma. On the other hand, another form of glaucoma, called angle-closure glaucoma, can cause rapid vision loss and a variety of symptoms.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common kind of glaucoma, occurring in around ninety-five percent of glaucoma patients. It happens when there is a blockage in the trabecular meshwork.
The trabecular meshwork is a structure that is part of the natural drainage structure of the eye. In open-angle glaucoma, the angle of the eye, located in the space between the iris and sclera, which is the white part of the eye, is open.
Fluid is able to easily travel through the angle, only to be halted once it reaches the trabecular meshwork. In open-angle glaucoma, IOP tends to build very slowly over a long period of time, causing gradual vision loss.
Angle-closure glaucoma is much rarer than open-angle glaucoma but still occurs in as many as eight percent of glaucoma patients. It happens when the iris bulges and closes the primary drainage angle.
This often happens very quickly, and when it occurs suddenly, it’s called acute angle closure. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is considered a medical emergency as it requires immediate intervention to relieve the build-up of IOP.
Acute angle closure glaucoma can also cause rapid vision loss. If you notice eye pain, aching above your brow, or nausea, it’s best to seek medical assistance right away.
How is Glaucoma Diagnosed?
In many cases, most people do not know they have glaucoma until the later stages of the condition unless it is detected early by an eye doctor. Although it’s important for everyone, those who are at-risk need to have regular eye exams to check their IOP and look for optic nerve damage.
You may be at greater risk if you are:
- Over fifty-five
- Of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent
- Have diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure
- Have a family history of glaucoma
The first part of your vision typically affected by glaucoma is your peripheral vision. You may notice blurry spots or blank spots in the corners of your vision.
The greater damage your optic nerve sustains, the more your vision will begin to tunnel.
What is the Treatment for Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is best treated in the early stages of the disease. At Chicago Cornea Consultants, we have many glaucoma treatment options:
Prescription eye drops are typically the first method of treatment for glaucoma. These eye drops may even be prescribed to those who haven’t yet developed glaucoma but have high IOP.
There are different kinds of treatments that use specialized lasers to improve fluid circulation in the eye, usually by targeting the trabecular meshwork.
Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery, or MIGS, are surgeries that help drain fluid from the eye while disturbing the least amount of tissue possible to ensure an easy recovery. Some of these procedures include implanting a tiny drainage device like the iStent.
At Chicago Cornea Consultants, we also offer the Kahook Dual Blade Goniotomy, which uses a special technique to remove a small amount of the trabecular meshwork without disturbing the surrounding tissue. Depending on your specific case of glaucoma, your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments.
Most people need to use eye drops even when they have another form of treatment to prevent IOP from rising any further. There are also more traditional glaucoma surgeries that may be required for severe cases of glaucoma.
These surgeries are more invasive than the treatments listed above, but they’re able to treat more aggressive glaucoma. Treatment cannot reverse vision loss.
However, treatment can help control the condition and prevent further vision loss. Early detection is the best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma, so be sure to see your eye doctor regularly.
Are you at risk for glaucoma? Schedule an appointment at Chicago Cornea Consultants in Highland Park, IL, today!