What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease that occurs when there is an increase in pressure within the eye. If left untreated, this pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve resulting in permanent vision loss. In fact, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.
View VideoIn people with glaucoma, the fluid within the eye does not drain properly. This causes pressure inside the eye to rise and damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending information to your brain that allows you to see. This pressure on the optic nerve damages critical nerve tissue. There are two basic types of glaucoma, open-angle and closed-angle: Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type that occurs in approximately 90 percent of those who suffer from the disease. This condition can develop gradually and be undetected for years, slowly damaging vision. Open-angle glaucoma signs and symptoms include:
- Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes
- tunnel vision in the advanced stages
Closed-angle glaucoma (also called angle-closure glaucoma), which is much more rapid in the onset, affects less than ten percent of glaucoma patients. Symptoms occur suddenly and are much more severe, but vision can be preserved with prompt, effective treatment. Closed-angle glaucoma signs and symptoms include:
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting (accompanying the severe eye pain)
- Sudden onset of visual disturbance, often in low light
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Reddening of the eye
Are You At Risk?
Glaucoma affects as many as 4 million Americans, or 2% of all adults over the age of 40. While anyone can get glaucoma, some people are at an increased risk. These risk factors include:
- Age, the older you get the greater the risk
- People with high blood pressure
- People with a family history of glaucoma
- Those who have suffered an eye injury
- African Americans, who are five times more likely to develop glaucoma
Fortunately, glaucoma is highly treatable. The key to preventing serious vision loss or blindness from glaucoma is early detection. An annual, fully dilated eye examination is recommended. Treatment involves medications, laser procedures and/or surgery to lower internal eye pressure by opening drainage passageways for the trapped fluid. A complete annual eye exam is the best and earliest means to detect glaucoma.
In early stages of open-angle glaucoma, medicated eye drops are usually prescribed to lower the eye’s pressure. If the condition worsens, a laser procedure called Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) is performed to lower pressure further. SLT uses short pulses of energy to target the trabecular meshwork and reduce intraocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. The laser treatment does not cause any scarring of the trabecular network and therefore, is a repeatable procedure. Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty usually takes approximately 10 minutes and has achieved excellent success rates in select patients. The treatment for closed-angle glaucoma, or narrow-angle glaucoma, is generally initiated with laser iridotomy to open the drainage channels of the eye.