Many people have heard of glaucoma, but few know how common it is or the damage it can cause. Our vision is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and glaucoma puts it at risk. Here at SightMD, we think knowledge is the first step to preventing glaucoma-related vision loss. What should you know about one of the leading causes of blindness in the world?
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma refers to a group of related conditions that can damage the optic nerve. Glaucoma is typically associated with high intraocular pressure (IOP), or the pressure inside of the eye. According to the National Eye Institute, about 2.2 million Americans suffer from glaucoma. The condition is a leading cause of blindness in older adults.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two major types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and closed-angle, or angle-closure glaucoma. POAG is the most common form of glaucoma and can develop over a number of years. In angle-closure glaucoma, IOP increases rapidly before the eye drains, which can cause damage to the optic nerve. Congenital glaucoma occurs in children. Secondary glaucoma results from a preexisting health condition, like high blood pressure or diabetes. In some causes, glaucoma can develop without high intraocular pressure. This is known as low- or normal-tension glaucoma.
POAG does not cause any significant symptoms. Many people do not realize they have glaucoma until they start noticing vision loss. At that point, any vision loss cannot be repaired. This is why we encourage routine eye examinations. Yearly glaucoma tests can help prevent glaucoma-related vision loss.
Closed-angle glaucoma is different. Because of the sudden increase in IOP, closed-angle glaucoma can cause significant symptoms. Closed-angle glaucoma is considered a medical emergency. If you experience any of the following symptoms, be sure to contact emergency services:
- Severe eye pain
- Blurry vision
- Profuse tearing
During a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor will use a number of methods to detect glaucoma. Applanation tonometry is often used to measure IOP. After numbing the surface of your eye, a small probe will press against your cornea, and the resistance of the cornea will indicate your IOP. Your eyes will be dilated, allowing your doctor to check for signs of optic nerve damage, and a visual acuity test can screen for any changes to your vision. Early diagnosis and intervention is the best way to ensure the success of your treatment.
In a healthy, functioning eye, canals drain a fluid called aqueous humor from inside the anterior chamber of the eye, allowing IOP to remain normal. Glaucoma develops when these canals cannot drain properly, resulting in an increase in pressure inside the eye. Although ocular hypertension does not necessarily cause optic nerve damage and vision loss, it is a risk factor for glaucoma and should be monitored closely.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Glaucoma can happen to anyone, but there are some risk factors that can make glaucoma more likely to occur. Common glaucoma risk factors include:
- Age. Older people are more likely to develop glaucoma. However, it is still possible for young people to get glaucoma, and it can even be present at birth.
- Ocular Hypertension. Ocular hypertension (high eye pressure) is a common cause of glaucoma and should be monitored closely.
- African American Background. People of African American descent are more likely to develop glaucoma.
- Diabetes. Diabetic patients are more susceptible to developing glaucoma, especially those with uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
- Family history. There is some evidence that genetics and family history plays a part in glaucoma development. If your family has a history of glaucoma, you should come in for yearly eye exams to be on the safe side.
The goal of glaucoma treatment is to lower and stabilize IOP to prevent vision loss. Regardless of the treatment needed, catching glaucoma early is the best way to prevent glaucoma-related vision loss. Be sure to attend routine eye examinations, especially if you have glaucoma risk factors.
Glaucoma treatment is recommended based on the type of glaucoma the patient is experiencing, and its severity. POAG can be treated with eye drops. In the case that eye pressure needs to be relieved more quickly (to treat closed-angle glaucoma, for example), laser surgery may be recommended to manually open the drainage canals. For more severe or aggressive cases of glaucoma that have not responded to other treatments, your surgeon can create a tiny flap on the surface of the eye, allowing fluid to be drained, lowering IOP. Another surgical option involves placing a valve in the eye, allowing fluid to drain.
Common glaucoma treatment methods include:
- Eye drops. Medicated eye drops are commonly used to keep eye pressure stable. Eye drops are typically used on patients with primary open-angle glaucoma.
- Oral medications. Like eye drops, oral medication offers a non-invasive method of lowering and stabilizing IOP.
- Laser trabeculoplasty. This laser surgery procedure allows your doctor to increase the outflow of fluid by creating tiny filtration holes in the drainage system of the eye. This procedure is usually performed in conjunction with eye drop usage.
- Iridotomy and Iridectomy. An iridotomy uses a laser to create a hole in the iris for fluid to drain out of. An iridectomy involved surgically removing a part of the iris to improve fluid outflow.
- Trabeculectomy. This procedure involves removing part of the eye’s drainage system.
It is not uncommon for your doctor to devise a treatment plan that includes more than one treatment method. You may receive surgery as your primary treatment method, and then use eye drops or medications to supplement the results.
Cost of Glaucoma Surgery
Total treatment cost varies from patient to patient. The cost of your glaucoma surgery will depend on a variety of factors, including which surgical method your doctor recommends, the type of anesthesia used, and any medications you receive before or after your procedure. Your doctor will discuss the cost of your procedure in detail during a consultation.
Vision loss resulting from glaucoma cannot be reversed, but treatment can slow the effects of the disease and help protect your remaining eyesight. The results of your treatment will depend on how early intervention was initiated, as well as the progression of the disease. Our goal is to protect and preserve your eyesight, and choosing an experienced eye doctor is the most important decision you can make to ensure the success of your treatment.
Contact SightMD to schedule a comprehensive eye examination with one of our experienced doctors.