Glaucoma is a group of diseases characterized by fluid buildup that damages the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss and blindness. The CDC reports that approximately three million Americans suffer from this disease, which is the second leading cause of blindness. Although glaucoma has no cure, you can preserve your eyesight and prevent vision loss by catching the condition early and receiving treatment from a qualified ophthalmologist.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Your eyes are continually making fluid (aqueous humor) that provides moisture and then moves out through the drainage angle. This system keeps the intraocular pressure stable. When the fluid does not drain properly, the pressure begins to break down the optic nerve. The optic nerve contains tiny nerve fibers that work like electric cables sending and receiving information. As each fiber is destroyed, blind spots appear in your vision. If it happens slowly, you won't notice until most of them die, causing blindness.
Types of Primary Glaucomas
There are various types of glaucoma, and most of them do not have easily recognizable symptoms. It is vital to get tested regularly, especially if you are at higher risk due to a family history of glaucoma or diabetes. Other high-risk individuals include those over age 60, those of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage, and those with certain health conditions. Types of primary glaucoma include:
Secondary glaucomas caused by another medical condition include:
Common Symptoms & Early Warning Signs
In most cases, glaucoma develops slowly, so it can be challenging to recognize the warning signs. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type and presents no symptoms, so yearly eye exams are the only way to catch the disease. If the condition is identified early by your ophthalmologist, it can be treated successfully with laser treatment or medication.
Angle-closure glaucoma (also called closed-angle, narrow-angle, or acute glaucoma) can happen quickly and should be treated as a medical emergency. The fluid is blocked by the iris's outer edge and cannot drain, which can cause blindness in days. Call your ophthalmologist right away if you suddenly experience:
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Sudden blurry vision
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Seeing rainbow rings or halos around lights
Some individuals may develop angle-closure glaucoma slowly, which is called chronic angle-closure glaucoma. In this case, you may not have any symptoms until the damage is significant, leading to an acute angle-closure attack.
Treatment Options for Glaucoma
Damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed. However, medication and surgery can prevent the disease from continuing to injure the optic nerve.
- Medication: Special eye drops can help lower eye pressure when used daily. Some allow the fluid to move through the drainage angle more effectively, and others reduce the amount of aqueous fluid made by the eyes. Your ophthalmologist can help you determine if medication is the best option for your condition.
- Laser Surgery: Two different types of laser surgery can treat glaucoma. Trabeculoplasty uses a laser to correct the drainage angle, so fluid flows appropriately. Iridotomy uses a laser to improve drainage by creating a tiny hole in the iris, so it flows into the drainage angle.
- Traditional Surgery: Two other surgeries can create new drainage channels. A trabeculectomy surgery creates a small flap in the sclera and a pocket in the conjunctiva, hidden in the upper eyelid. The fluid will drain out through the flap into the pocket and then be absorbed by the surrounding tissue. In another procedure, glaucoma drainage devices surgically implanted effectively send the fluid into a reservoir under the conjunctiva to be absorbed by adjacent blood vessels.
What You Can Do
Glaucoma treatment is a team effort between you, your doctor, and your ophthalmologist. Your role is to follow instructions carefully and attend all maintenance appointments. At Pomerance Eye Center in Chattanooga, our skilled ophthalmologists can provide professional examinations for the early diagnosis of glaucoma. We can treat your condition with medication or surgery and help you maintain your eyesight as long as possible. Call today to schedule your appointment!