More than three million Americans are living with glaucoma—an ocular condition which, if not treated, can lead to irreversible blindness. Glaucoma is a result of an accumulation of pressure inside the eye which then damages the optic nerve—the communication highway that sends messages between our eyes and brain. When the optic nerve becomes damaged, one can experience a range of unpleasant and even painful symptoms, before their sight is irreparably compromised.
Despite being a fairly common condition, many patients don’t know much about glaucoma. Here is what you need to know about this debilitating eye disease to keep your eyes healthy for as long as possible.
Early Indicators of Glaucoma
In most cases, glaucoma develops slowly. Unfortunately, this means there are rarely any warning signs or symptoms until the damage has already started to occur. In fact, by the time most patients who don’t regularly visit their eye doctor have been diagnosed with glaucoma, the condition may have already been developing for a number of years. For this reason, attending your annual comprehensive eye exams is essential. Your visit will include screening for risk factors of glaucoma which could allow your eye doctor to catch it early—before any damage is done to your sight. Early detection is crucial because the damage caused by glaucoma is irreversible. In patients with the most common form of glaucoma—known as open-angle glaucoma—the peripheral vision is affected first.
Closed-angle glaucoma is far rarer, but the symptoms tend to come on much more quickly. If diagnosis and treatment aren’t sought immediately, patients are at serious risk of losing their vision altogether. The symptoms associated with closed-angle glaucoma include sudden, severe eye pain, nausea/vomiting, blurred vision, rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights, and sudden sight loss.
In most cases, glaucoma will be detected during a routine comprehensive eye exam, which should ideally take place annually. Here are some of the tests your eye doctor will perform to determine whether or not you have glaucoma:
An eye pressure test. This measures the amount of pressure inside your eye—known as intraocular pressure or IOP—and there are several different tools that can be used to do this. The process is painless, and a high IOP reading is usually indicative of glaucoma, or a high risk of developing the condition.
Visual field testing. Also called perimetry testing, vision field testing determines how wide your field of vision is to see if you have lost any peripheral sight, which is often a symptom of glaucoma.
Gonioscopy. This examination of the front part of the eye is used to check how well fluid is draining out of your eye and can help your eye doctor determine what type of glaucoma you have.
Optic nerve assessment. Your eye doctor will want to check the health and condition of your optic nerve, which is the area that becomes damaged by glaucoma. This is usually done using a slit lamp, which is a microscope with a bright light. However, you may also have a scan of your eye called a tomograph, which is used to create images of the back of the eye allowing your doctor to see the optic nerve clearly.
Treatment for glaucoma
Unfortunately, if you have already suffered vision loss due to glaucoma, there is currently no remedy available to restore that vision. However, treatment can be recommended to prevent glaucoma from getting worse. Exactly which treatment you will be offered will depend on the type of glaucoma that you have.
If you are diagnosed with closed-angle glaucoma, you are in an emergency scenario. You will be admitted to hospital with medication to reduce the pressure in your eye, followed by laser treatment which will prevent the further accumulation of fluid inside it. This is done using a local anaesthetic to relieve any discomfort.
If you are diagnosed with the more slow-developing open-angle glaucoma, you will almost certainly start on a treatment plan of eyedrops meant to reduce the pressure inside your eyes. There are different types of eye drop available, and you may need to work with your eye doctor to find the one that works for you.
If eye drops are unsuccessful, you may be referred for laser treatment, a procedure in which high-energy light is focused onto your eye in order to stop fluid from building inside it. A local anaesthetic is used, and most patients experience no more than a slight sensation of heat during the procedure. Finally, if all alternative options haven’t relieved the pressure inside your eyes, you may be referred for surgery. This is known as trabeculectomy and involves removing part of the drainage system in the eyes so that they can drain more effectively and reduce the pressure in your eyes.
If you would like more information about glaucoma, our experienced team of eye doctors would be delighted to share their knowledge and experience. Call us today to schedule an eye exam in Olathe or Leawood.