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Glaucoma Treatment

Glaucoma Treatment

Did you know?

More than three million Americans are living with glaucoma, 2.7 million of whom—aged 40 and older—are affected by its most common form, open-angle glaucoma.

30%

YOUR EYE HEALTH

GLAUCOMA TREATMENT

Glaucoma is an eye disease that does increasing damage to your eye’s optic nerve over time. As it gets progressively worse, early diagnosis and treatment are key. 

Glaucoma is the leading preventable cause of vision loss and blindness for adults in North America. It is also the second leading cause of blindness in the world. 

What Is Glaucoma? 

Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases. It causes damage to the optic nerve as a result of increasing pressure inside the eye. This is called intraocular pressure (IOP). If it is caught early, glaucoma can often be managed and controlled to prevent severe vision loss and blindness. However, glaucoma can often be difficult to discover early on because most people are not aware that they have it until their eyes have been damaged enough for symptoms to occur. This is why glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of sight.”  Unfortunately, once this disease progresses enough to cause vision loss, the damage is permanent.  

However, there are treatment options for glaucoma. These include medications and surgery to regulate the IOP and slow down the progression of the disease. This can prevent further vision loss. However, the specific type of treatment recommended will depend on the exact type and cause of the glaucoma. 

Risk Factors for Glaucoma 

Glaucoma prevention is possible only if it is detected and treated early. Symptoms often do not appear until the disease has started to cause vision loss. This is why regular eye exams with a glaucoma screening are a necessity, particularly for those at risk for the disease. Anyone can get glaucoma, however, the things listed below put you at a higher risk for developing it: 

  • Being over 60 years old 
  • Being of Hispanic, Latinx, or Asian descent (Being an African-American over age 40 (Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans and 6-8 times more common in African-Americans than Caucasions)  
  • A family history of Glaucoma 
  • Diabetes 
  • Severe nearsightedness 
  • Taking certain medications (like steroids) 
  • A history of eye injury 

A buildup of pressure in the eye leads to glaucoma causing damage to the optic nerve. This nerve is responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain, where it can register.  

The Types of Glaucoma 

There are a number of types of Glaucoma. Some are more severe than others. You can learn more about the types of Glaucoma, how it can present, and how it can be treated below. It is important to note that early detection and treatment is key to preserving vision. Treatment for this eye disease can include medicated eye drops, medications, laser procedures, and surgical procedures. 

The Signs and Symptoms of Glaucoma   

The IOP caused by glaucoma slowly damages the optic nerve, which causes progressive vision loss over time. Vision loss often begins with peripheral, or side vision, which results in limited tunnel vision. If glaucoma is left untreated, the central vision will be affected until the sufferer is completely blind. Unfortunately, at present, any vision-loss caused by glaucoma cannot be restored.  

What are the symptoms? 

Usually, glaucoma has no symptoms. One of the most common forms of the disease is open angle glaucoma. At its onset, vision is normal and there is no tell-tall pain or discomfort. This is why it can be hard to catch early on and is sometimes called the “sneak thief of sight.”  

There are different kinds of glaucoma. One particularly acute type is called angle-closure glaucoma. This kind can present sudden unpleasant symptoms such as foggy, blurred vision, halos appearing around lights, eye pain, headaches, and nausea. This type of glaucoma is an extreme medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately. Intraocular pressure can become extremely high and cause permanent damage within hours of its onset. 

The main common forms of glaucoma are open-angle (the most common type) and narrow-angle. Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), progresses slowly without drastic vision loss or pain. It initially only affects peripheral vision. However, by the time symptoms appear, irreversible damage has already been done. The good news is that the sooner it is treated, the more successfully more severe vision loss can be prevented. If left untreated, over time it will cause complete vision loss. 

Another kind of open-angle glaucoma is normal-tension glaucoma or low-tension glaucoma. In this case, IOP remains within normal levels. The cause of this type of the disease has yet to be discovered fully, but experts think it might have something to do with insufficient blood flow to the optic nerve. This leads to permanent damage. Some demographics are higher risk for this type of glaucoma include: 

  • Those of Japanese Descent 
  • Women 
  • Those with a history of vascular disease 
  • Those with low blood pressure  

Angle-closure glaucoma is a type of glaucoma that causes severe pain. It is a dangerous sudden increase in eye pressure. Other symptoms include blurred vision, halos appearing in your vision, headaches, and nausea. Its cause is a blockage of fluid in the front of the eye. This is a medical emergency that requires swift treatment. Without immediate treatment to clear out the blockage permanent vision loss can result.  

While glaucoma is often present in older populations, people of any age can have it. Congenital glaucoma is an inherited form of the disease that is present from birth. Babies born with congenital glaucoma have a defect that slows the normal drainage of eye fluid. These children are often diagnosed by age one. In these cases symptoms often include unusually teary eyes, visibly cloudy and hazy eyes, large eyes, protruding eyes, or light sensitivity. This type of glaucoma requires surgery, which often restores full vision to the children who undergo it.  

Secondary glaucoma is a type of the disease which occurs as a complication. It can result as a complication of eye surgeries, injuries, or other medical conditions. It can result from cataracts, tumors, and an inflammatory condition called uveitis. Uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes can also lead to the very serious neovascular glaucoma.  

One rare form of glaucoma is pigmentary glaucoma. This occurs when the iris sheds pigment which clogs the fluid drainage from the eye. This results in inflammation and damage to the drainage system and eye itself.  

Glaucoma Diagnosis And Treatment 

Glaucoma treatment depends on a number of factors. These include the type, progression, and severity of glaucoma, as well as the overall health and needs of the patient.  

Detecting Glaucoma 

Your eyes will be checked for glaucoma during your routine eye exam. In order to check for the presence of the disease, your eye doctor will dilate your eye in order to examine your optic nerve. They will search for signs of glaucoma and also measure the intraocular pressure (IOP) of the eye with a specialized instrument called a tonometer.   

The eye will first be numbed with drops. Then your doctor will very gently press the tonometer against the surface of the eye to measure the IOP. However, IOPcan fluctuate throughout the day for a variety of reasons. Glaucoma can also be present without elevated IOP. If there are signs of the disease, further tests will need to be done. 

Visual Field Test 

A visual field test detects any blind spots in your peripheral or side field of vision. In order for this test to be conducted, you will need to place your head in front of a machine. You will look ahead and tell your doctor if you see signals in your peripheral vision.  

There are also other tests which might be used. In one, your doctor may also measure how thick your cornea is. In order to do this, they will use an ultrasonic wave instrument in a test called pachymetry. Your doctor might also use imaging techniques such as digital retina scanning. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) can also be used to create an image of your optic nerve and look for glaucoma damage.  

Glaucoma Treatment 

Treatment for glaucoma depends on several factors. These include the progression, severity, and type of glaucoma present. Treatment can include things like eye drops, medication, and surgery.  

In the case of pressure-related glaucoma, medication and eye drops to lower IOP are often the first thing tried. The drops may have some uncomfortable side effects, but they are essential for stopping the progression of the disease and preventing further vision loss and blindness. 

If glaucoma is caused by an issue with fluids or drainage in the eye, surgical procedures are more common. These procedures are meant to control the flow of eye fluids by either decreasing the fluids or enabling better drainage. In many cases, surgery and medical solutions will be combined to treat glaucoma.  

When it comes to glaucoma, the importance of early detection and treatment cannot be stressed enough. Once glaucoma damages your eyes and you lose vision, that vision can never be restored. Being aware of the symptoms of glaucoma and getting regular eye exams whether you are at high risk or not is the best way to make sure that if you develop this disease, it is caught early.   

How does glaucoma look?

See how common vision problems can impact everyday life.

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