Glaucoma, commonly called “the silent thief of sight” is an eye disease that is caused by damage to or excessive pressure on the optic nerve and nerve fibers that form parts of the retina. Glaucoma typically has no symptoms in its early stages and can lead to blindness if left untreated. According to the National Eye Institute, nearly 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have the most common form of glaucoma (open-angle glaucoma) and almost half of these people are not even aware they have the disease!
There are several different types of glaucoma, but the two major types are primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) and closed angle glaucoma, or angle-closure glaucoma. Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma.
With primary open angle glaucoma, inner eye pressure rises as the canals that drain fluid from the eye become clogged. POAG can develop over several years and gradually reduce vision if it is not diagnosed and treated. Angle-closure glaucoma occurs less frequently than POAG and is much more serious. With this form of the disease, eye pressure rapidly increases to high levels before draining, causing damage to the optic nerve. Closed-angle glaucoma is an emergency, and needs immediate medical attention.
What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
One of the most frightening things about glaucoma is that there are usually no symptoms or warning signs in its early stages. Most people do not even realize that they have elevated pressure in their eyes or that their optic nerve is damaged. Peripheral vision is affected first, which means you could have 20/20 vision and still have glaucoma. People who have POAG may have excessive fluid in their eyes, while those with closed-angle glaucoma may experience painful, red eyes, blurred vision, headache, and nausea (closed-angle glaucoma is an emergency and does require immediate treatment). Other symptoms include halos, peripheral vision loss, inability to adjust vision in dark rooms, difficulty focusing on close work, and frequent need to change eyeglass prescriptions.
Early detection of glaucoma is imperative to successful treatment and prevention of vision loss. Regular eye examinations are extremely important for everyone, even those who seem to have perfect vision. If you want to schedule an eye care appointment, contact our Smithtown or Riverhead office today.
How is Glaucoma Treated?
Treatment for glaucoma depends on the type of the disease and its severity. Patients who have primary open angle glaucoma are treated with eye drops that lower the pressure in the eye, helping to slow damage to the optic nerve. For closed angle glaucoma, eye pressure needs to be reduced quickly, either with eye drops or intravenously. If these treatments are ineffective, laser surgery may be needed to open the eye’s drainage canal.
If glaucoma does not respond to these treatment methods, conventional surgery is usually recommended. Trabeculectomy is the most commonly used surgery to reduce intraocular pressure. During this procedure, a tiny flap is made in the sclera (the white of the eye), allowing fluid to drain. Non-penetrating deep sclerectomy or viscocanalostomy is a modification to the trabeculectomy procedure. With this surgical method, fluid is drained and eye pressure is lowered without the need for a full-thickness hole in the eye.
Another surgical option for glaucoma is valve implantation, in which a tube is placed in the eye to allow fluid to drain into a reservoir on the outside of the eye.
What are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?
- Age: Anyone who is over the age of 60 is at risk for glaucoma. The occurrence of glaucoma increases with age in all ethnic groups.
- Family history: Anyone who has a relative, such as a sibling or parent, who suffers from glaucoma is at higher risk.
- High intraocular pressure: People with elevated intraocular pressure are at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Ethnicity: African Americans are at increased risk for glaucoma, especially after the age of 40.
- Diabetes: People who suffer from diabetes are at a higher risk of having glaucoma.
The best way to prevent this “silent thief of sight” from robbing you of your vision is to have regular eye exams. Early detection is imperative to successful treatment. Contact SightMD to schedule a comprehensive eye examination with one of our experienced doctors.