Glaucoma affects an estimated 3 million Americans and is one of the leading causes of permanent vision loss in the world. Glaucoma occurs when there is too much pressure within the eyes – something which puts pressure onto the optic nerve and damages it. Since the optic nerve is responsible for sending messages from the eye to the brain to tell us what we can see, any damage to it can affect the clarity of our vision. As such, if glaucoma isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly, it can lead to a significant deterioration in your vision and eventually total blindness.
The vast majority of cases of glaucoma are detected at routine eye exams rather than being diagnosed as a result of the patient experiencing symptoms. This is because in most instances, glaucoma develops very slowly, and symptoms appear gradually, first affecting your peripheral vision. This refers to the very edges of your eyesight, meaning that changes to this area are often overlooked. However, there are some indicators of glaucoma to be aware of. These include:
Loss of peripheral vision
Halos or rainbow-colored circles around bright lights
These symptoms are that of the most common type of glaucoma, known as open-angle glaucoma. This type develops as a result of the drainage channels in the eyes becoming blocked and clogged.
A small percentage of patients will go on to develop a much rarer type of glaucoma called closed/acute angle glaucoma. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, the closed-angle variety occurs very quickly as a result of a sudden blockage in the drainage channels. This means that symptoms also develop acutely and are much more severe. In addition to those listed above, they also include:
Severe eye pain
Nausea and/or vomiting
Tenderness around the eyes
Vision loss in the case of closed-angle glaucoma is sudden and rapid. As such, you must seek the immediate attention of your eye doctor.
Your eye doctor will run a number of different tests to determine if you do indeed have glaucoma. These will include some or all of the following:
A tonometry test. This will be used to evaluate your inner eye pressure.
A dilated eye exam. This will enable your eye doctor to assess the shape and color of the optic nerve to check for any abnormalities.
A visual field test. This assesses your complete field of vision to ensure whether you have lost any peripheral vision and if so, how much.
Gonioscopy. This test looks at the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea in order to establish the type of glaucoma that you have.
Pachymetry. This test looks at the thickness of the cornea to determine if this is affecting the pressure inside your eyes.
The information obtained using these tests will enable your eye doctor to determine if you have glaucoma, which type it is, and what treatment may be most effective.
There are a few different options for glaucoma treatment, and the recommendations given to you by your eye doctor may vary depending on which type you are diagnosed with. Regrettably, any vision that you have already lost won’t be able to be restored, but your treatments can prevent any further damage to your sight.
Unsurprisingly, closed-angle glaucoma needs to be treated very quickly. This means that you will be started on treatment to lower the pressure in your eyes immediately. This could involve several things, including eye drops which contain medications to reduce the pressure, as well as laser treatment to open up the drainage channels so that the fluid can naturally flow out and the pressure will ease.
While open-angle glaucoma isn’t an ocular emergency, you will still need to begin treatment fairly swiftly to bring the pressure in your eyes under control. Some of the treatments that may be recommended include various eyedrops (since you may need to try several to find the variety that works best for you), laser treatment, or a surgical procedure called a trabeculectomy. This may also be given to patients who have acute glaucoma where no treatments are effective at reducing the pressure within the eyes. This treatment involves the surgical removal of part of the drainage system so that it can work effectively again.
For more information about glaucoma, how it is diagnosed, and what treatments are available, our dedicated team is here to help. Please contact our eye care office in Burleson, TX with your query or to schedule an appointment.