Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steals sight without warning and often without symptoms. Every year millions of people around the world develop glaucoma and each day without treatment can bring them one step closer to blindness.
In a healthy eye, a balance exists between the fluid produced, and the fluid that leaves the eye. This balance keeps the eye pressure at a healthy level. In order to maintain balance the eye has a built-in drainage system. This drainage system controls the inflow and outflow of fluids, which is responsible for nourishing the eye. The eye’s drainage system works a lot like a sink. Fluid is produced from the faucet and exits through the drain. If a blockage develops in the eye’s drainage system, or if fluid is produced faster than it can escape – an overflow will occur. In the eye, this overflow causes the pressure to elevate. The optic nerve is most vulnerable to damage from elevated pressure. Continuous elevated pressure or spikes in pressure can damage the optic nerve. If left untreated, damage to the optic nerve can lead to vision loss and even blindness. The main goals of glaucoma surgery are to reduce eye pressure and prevent vision loss. When treating glaucoma one option to reduce pressure, is to turn off the faucet. Another option to reduce pressure is to remove the blockage that’s slowing the fluid from escaping. And the final option for reducing pressure is to create a new channel for the fluid to escape through. Your doctor will recommend the best option for you.
There are a number of treatment options available, that are designed to slow down, or stop damage to the eye that is caused by glaucoma. While vision that has already been lost due to glaucoma can not be recovered, these treatments can stop vision loss from getting worse. Your eye care professional may suggest medicated eye drops, a laser procedure, or a surgical procedure, to treat glaucoma. These treatments all have a common goal; to lower pressure inside of the eye, and prevent further damage to the optic nerve. Prescription eye drops lower pressure inside of the eye, by decreasing the amount of fluid the eye produces, or by helping fluid leave the eye more easily. Laser procedures can lower eye pressure by relieving blockage in the drain mechanism of the eye. In some cases, lasers are also used to create new drainage channels inside the eye, when there is an obstruction to the normal flow of fluid. Surgical procedures lower eye pressure by creating an opening in the wall of the eye, so the fluid can easily escape. Another surgical approach is to implant a tube called a shunt, to channel fluid out of the eye. Your treatment plan will depend on the type of glaucoma you have, how far it has advanced, and your general health. Your eye care professional will determine the best approach for you.
Glaucoma is one of the most common causes of blindness, and therefore everyone needs to be aware of this disease. However, certain people are at a greater risk of developing this disease than others. These include: people over the age of forty, individuals who are severely myopic or nearsighted, people who have diabetes, people diagnosed with hypertension, long term steroid or cortisone users, people of african or mediterranean descent, people who have family members with the disease, individuals who have experienced a serious injury or trauma to their eye, those who have high intra ocular pressure, and people with enlarged optic nerves. Glaucoma is a highly detectable disease. It is essential that high-risk glaucoma patients have annual eye examinations to ensure continued ocular health.
Individuals who are at risk of developing glaucoma should be tested regularly to maintain the quality of their vision. There are many different tests that eye doctors may perform to monitor for glaucoma: One test a doctor may perform is called Ophthalmoscopy. During this test, the doctor observes the condition of the optic nerve through a special microscope. If necessary, your doctor may also use a special camera to take photographs of your eye for future comparison. Another test that may be performed is called Tonometry. This test measures for the presence of elevated pressure inside of the eye, a key risk factor for glaucoma. The thickness of the cornea can influence the results of a Tonometry test, so a doctor may measure the cornea by performing a test called Pachymetry. Knowing the thickness of the cornea can help the doctor more accurately interpret pressure within the eye. A doctor may perform a Gonioscopy test. During this test, the doctor observes the angle of the eye where fluid is supposed to drain to see if there is any blockage or closure that may elevate pressure within the eye. Patients may also be given an interactive test, called a Visual Fields test to detect vision loss due to glaucoma. During this test, patients look straight ahead, and indicate when they see a spot of light appear in their visual field. Spots that go unnoticed during this test may indicate areas of vision loss. Another test that may be performed, measures your optic nerve using computerized imaging devices. These devices scan the area of the optic nerve, providing highly-detailed images of the optic nerve and surrounding tissue. This test can help doctors identify and treat glaucoma far in advance of previous technologies. Doctors may perform one, or all of these tests on a patient, depending on their risks of developing glaucoma, and the condition of their eyes. Performed regularly, these tests provide an eye doctor with the information needed to effectively treat glaucoma, and prevent vision loss.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, your doctor may prescribe eye drops to control pressure in your eye. These drops are applied onto the surface of the eye and may cause stinging or burning. Eye drops for treating glaucoma work in two ways. First they lesson the amount of aqueous fluid the ciliary body of your eye produces. Second, the drops may allow more fluid to drain out of the eye more easily. Sometimes, drops alone may not be able to treat glaucoma.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, you are not alone. You can manage your glaucoma. Come in for routine check-ups. Incorporate your glaucoma drops into a daily routine so you remember them. Reach out for support from loved ones. If certain activities become challenging, don’t be afraid of change. We will work as a team to manage glaucoma.