What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common disease caused by damage to the optic nerve due to a gradual increase in fluid pressure in the eye. The front portion of the eye contains fluid that constantly circulates through the eye, nourishing tissues and helping maintain intraocular pressure. This continuous flow of fluid nourishes the lens and the cornea and also removes unwanted debris. A healthy eye produces fluid at the same rate that it drains, thus maintaining a normal pressure. Glaucoma occurs when the eye’s drainage system fails to drain this fluid properly and pressure builds up in the eye. If not treated, the high pressure damages the optic nerve, resulting in permanent vision loss.
There are different types of glaucoma; when you come in for your evaluation your doctor will conduct a thorough examination to determine what form of the disease you have and the best treatment option.
Open Angle Glaucoma
The most common form of the disease and effects peripheral (side) vision first, leading to "tunnel vision” over time. As the disease advances, central vision can be affected and if left untreated can result in total blindness.
Closed Angle Glaucoma
A less common form of the disease and can cause a sudden onset of blurred vision, severe headaches, nausea and halos around lights.
Though rare, can cause symptoms in infants such as an enlarged eye, cloudy cornea, light sensitivity and excessive tearing.
Who is at Risk For Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness and is estimated to affect 1 of every 50 American adults. While glaucoma can affect anyone - those with a family history, African Americans over age 40 and anyone over the age of 60 are more at risk and should schedule regular exams with their eye care provider.
In most cases, glaucoma is detected during a routine eye examination before the patient experiences any vision problems. The evaluation for glaucoma is painless and includes measuring the pressure in the eye with a tonometer. The optic nerve is checked for damage and a special mirrored magnifying lens called a gonioscope is used to examine the drainage channels for proper fluid outflow. If glaucoma is suspected or detected, the patient’s field of vision is tested for damage.
What Are The Symptoms of Glaucoma?
Most symptoms of glaucoma go unnoticed because the build up of pressure is gradual and painless. People often do not detect a change in vision until substantial loss of sight has occurred. For this reason, regular eye exams are recommended.
With early detection and treatment, glaucoma can be controlled and vision preserved. However, glaucoma cannot be cured and once vision has been damaged, it cannot be restored. The most common treatment for glaucoma is the use of eye drops. Some medications are also used to allow for faster drainage of fluid from the eye, while others reduce the production of fluid.
For patients who may be intolerant to drops, we offer Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT). This treatment uses an advanced laser system to target only specific cells of the eye – those containing melanin, a natural pigment. This allows for only these cells to be affected, leaving surrounding tissue intact. As a result, your body’s own healing response helps lower the pressure in your eye. This outpatient procedure only takes a few minutes and most patients see results within the next day.
In addition, we are proud to offer AquaFlow, a new advancement in the treatment of glaucoma and its symptoms that reduces intraocular pressure with a tiny collagen implant. The implant will help maintain a channel for excess fluid in the eye to drain, keeping intraocular pressure low. This advanced procedure is quickly becoming the preferred glaucoma treatment method with fewer risks compared with traditional glaucoma surgery and reduces the need for eye drops and other medications. The outpatient procedure takes approximately 30-45 minutes and most patients can return to their normal activities the next day. Recovery time is significantly shorter than with traditional glaucoma surgery and patients can expect their vision to return to normal within one week. Once your eye has healed, the implant will maintain a healthy eye pressure and the need for eye drops or medication will be reduced or eliminated.