Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. It is estimated that over three million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those patients are aware that they suffer from this condition. Patients often remain asymptomatic until significant vision loss has already occurred.
Causes of Glaucoma
Though the exact cause of glaucoma is not known, it is usually associated with a high pressure inside the eye referred to as intra-ocular pressure or IOP. However, some patients develop glaucoma even though their eye pressure is within the “normal range.”
Vision loss from glaucoma first occurs in the periphery. Left untreated, this peripheral vision loss progresses to complete blindness that is irreversible.
Types of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is characterized as “open angle” and “closed angle”, which refers to the status of the drainage system within the eye. In closed angle glaucoma, the fluid inside the eye does not have access to the drainage system, and the pressure inside the eye can rise dramatically, resulting in significant eye pain and blurry vision. This is an acute attack and patients who experience these symptoms should seek an eye care specialist or emergency room physician immediately.
Open angle glaucoma is much more prevalent than closed angle. In open angle glaucoma, though the fluid inside the eye does have access to the drainage system, the drainage system is clogged. Eye pressure rises gradually, reaching levels that cause damage to the optic nerve and subsequent vision loss, but without causing any noticeable pain.
Who is at Risk for Glaucoma
There are certain patients at higher risk to develop glaucoma and should see an ophthalmologist on a regular basis. Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, anyone over 40 years old should have a screening for glaucoma to check for any damage to the optic nerve. The doctor will then recommend how often you should return for further checks.
Some of the factors which increase the likelihood of developing glaucoma include:
- If you have a family history of glaucoma.
- If you are of African American or Hispanic descent.
- If you have sustained an eye injury.
- If you have thin corneas.
- If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, or issues with blood circulation.
- Severe nearsightedness.
Patients 65 years or older should be tested for Glaucoma every 1 to 2 years as recommended by their ophthalmologist. When a patient has more than one of the risk factors named above, it puts them at an even higher risk to develop glaucoma.
Early Detection is the Key Factor
Because glaucoma is most often asymptomatic or without symptoms, early detection of this eye disease is key. A complete dilated eye exam is an excellent screening tool for glaucoma. If glaucoma is detected such as high eye pressure or visible damage to the optic nerve, further testing will then be performed.
Glaucoma testing includes:
- A corneal thickness measurement known as pachymetry
- Direct visualization of the drainage angle in the eye using a specialized lens
- A sophisticated scan of the optic nerve
- Formal testing for peripheral vision loss known as a visual field test.
- A measurement of eye pressure known as tonometry
When a patient is diagnosed with glaucoma, these tests are performed routinely and in conjunction with regular eye exams to monitor changes and health of the optic nerve.
Treatments for Glaucoma
There is no cure for glaucoma. Progressive vision loss from glaucoma cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed down. This is achieved by lowering the pressure inside the eye.
Eye drops are the first line of treatment to lower eye pressure. Most of the eye drops currently available are well-tolerated, with minimal side effects. Patients are instructed to use the drops once or twice daily.
Laser treatment is another option that is safe and effective for lowering eye pressure. This painless laser treatment is conveniently performed in our office as an out-patient procedure.
When medical therapy mentioned above is not sufficient to slow down the progression of glaucoma, eye surgery may be needed to create additional drainage systems in the eye.
Dr. Jeffrey Peterson, a member of the Jenkins Eye Care team, specializes in the care of patients with glaucoma. His expertise in the early detection of glaucoma enables him to manage this chronic disease using leading edge techniques and surgical treatments. Dr. Peterson is committed to educating his patients about glaucoma and walking them through each step of the treatment process.