Must Know Glaucoma Information That Can Save Your Eyesight

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Glaucoma is an eye condition that develops when too much fluid pressure builds up inside of the eye.  The condition may be inherited and may not show up until later in life.

The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain.  If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause loss of vision.  Without treatment, glaucoma can cause permanent blindness within a few years.

Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from this increased pressure, it is important to see your opthamologist regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long term visual loss occurs.

If you are over the age of 40 and if you have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam every one to two years.  If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently.

Why Does Pressure Rise in the Eye to Cause Glaucoma?

Glaucoma usually occurs when intraocular pressure increases.  This happens when the fluid in the eye’s anterior chamber, the area between the cornea and the iris, rises.

Normally, this fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of the eye through a mesh-like channel.  If this channel becomes blocked, fluid builds up, causing glaucoma.  The direct cause of this blockage is unknown, but doctors do know that it is most often inherited, meaning it is passed from parents to children.

Less common causes of glaucoma include blunt or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of the blood vessels in the eye, inflammatory conditions of the eye, and occasionally eye surgery to correct another condition.  Glaucoma usually occurs in both eyes, but it may involve each eye to a different extent.

What are the types of Glaucoma?

There are two main types of glaucoma:

  1. Open-angle glaucoma.  Also called wide-angle glaucoma, this is the most common type of glaucoma.  The structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye does not flow properly through the drain of the eye, called trabecular meshwork.
  2. Angle-closure glaucoma.  Also called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma is less common, but can cause a sudden build up of pressure in the eye.  Drainage may be poor because the angle angle between the iris and the cornea (where a drainage channel for the eye is located) is too narrow.  Or, the pupil opens too wide, narrowing the angle and blocking the flow of the fluid through the channel.

Who Gets It?

Glaucoma most often occurs in adults over 40, but it can also occur in young adults, children, and even infants.  In African-Americans, glaucoma occurs more frequently and at an earlier age with greater loss of vision.

You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:

  • Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic descent
  • Are over 40
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have poor vision
  • Have diabetes
  • Take certain steroids, such as prednisone

What Are The Symptoms of Glaucoma?

For most people, there are few or no symptoms of glaucoma.  The first sign of glaucoma.  The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease. Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should complete an eye exam with an eye specialist every two years.

Occasionally, introcular pressure can rise to severe levels.  In these cases, sudden eye pain, headache or blurred vision or the appearance of halos around the lights may occur.

If you have any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical care:

  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Vision loss
  • Redness in the eye
  • Eye that looks hazy (particularly in infants)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in the eye
  • Narrowing of vision (tunnel vision)

How is Glaucoma Diagnosed?

To diagnose glaucoma, an opthamologist will test your vision and examine your eyes through dilated pupils.  In fact, photographs of the optic nerve can also be helpful to follow over time as the optic nerve appearance changes as glaucoma progresses.

The doctor will perform a procedure called tonometry to check for eye pressure and a visual field test to determine if there is loss of peripheral vision.  Glaucoma tests are painless and take very little time.

How Is It Treated?

Glaucoma treatment may include prescription eye drops, laser or microsurgery.

  • Eye drops for glaucoma.  These either reduce the formation of fluid in the front of the eye or increase it’s outflow.  Side effects of glaucoma drops may include allergy, redness of the eyes, brief stinging, blurred vision and irritated eyes.  Some glaucoma drugs may affect the heart and lungs.  Be sure to tell your doctor about any other medications you are currently taking or are allergic to.
  • Laser surgery for glaucoma.  Laser surgery for glaucoma slightly increases the outflow of the fluid from the eye in open-angle glaucoma or eliminates fluid blockage in angle-obscure glaucoma.  Types of laser surgery for glaucoma include trabeculoplasty, in which a laser is used to pull open the trabecular meshwork drainage area, iridotomy, in which a tiny hole is made in the iris, allowing the fluid to flow more freely; and cyclophotocoagulation, in which a laser beam treats areas of the ciliary body, reducing the production of fluid.
  • Microsurgery for glaucoma.  In an operation called a trabeculectomy, a new channel is created to drain the fluid, thereby reducing intraocular pressure that causes glaucoma.  Sometimes this form of glaucoma surgery fails and must be redone.  For some patients, a glaucoma implant is the best option.  Other complications of microsurgery for glaucoma include some temporary or permanent loss of vision, as well as bleeding or infection.

Can It Be Prevented?

Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled.

What Is The Outlook If You Have Been Diagnosed With Glaucoma?

At this time, the loss of vision caused by glaucoma is irreversible and cannot be restored.  However, successfully lowering eye pressure can prevent further visual loss from glaucoma.  Most people with glaucoma do not go blind as long as follow their treatment plan and have regular eye exams.

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