Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, and that’s one of the reasons why January 2023 has been designated as National Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Glaucoma is a disease that more frequently affects older people, although people of all ages can contract glaucoma. It is a particularly difficult disease to treat because there are often no warning signs that might give clues to the condition. Most of the time, it’s only after the disease has progressed that symptoms become obvious.
Since this is a disease where abnormal pressure gets exerted on the optic nerve, it can severely impact a person’s vision and even cause total blindness. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the details surrounding glaucoma, and how it can be treated.
What exactly is glaucoma?
The disease we refer to as glaucoma is actually a group of eye conditions that can cause minor or major damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for sending visual information to the brain, and it is absolutely essential in order to have good vision. Usually, the optic nerve is caused by having abnormally high pressure in the eye, although glaucoma can happen even under conditions of normal pressure.
While the disease can affect people of all ages, it is most common in older adults, and it’s the number one cause of blindness for people aged 60 and above. For the most part, the various types of glaucoma provide no warning signs, and the effect is often so gradual that a person doesn’t even notice it until it reaches the later stages of progress. Your best bet against contracting glaucoma is to have regular eye exams that measure eye pressure. If acted upon soon enough, glaucoma can be prevented, or its effects can be minimized.
Symptoms of glaucoma
Symptoms of glaucoma will depend on which type of the disease a person actually has. Someone who has normal tension glaucoma will probably not observe any symptoms at all in the early stages. As the disease progresses, it will be possible for a person to have blurry vision, and in the later stages of the disease, a loss of peripheral vision may be apparent.
Someone experiencing acute angle closure glaucoma might have redness around the eyes, nausea, and vomiting, or severe headaches and eye pain.
In some cases, they might even see colored rings around lights when no such rings are actually present. A person experiencing open-angle glaucoma will also likely detect no early warning symptoms that would identify the disease. As it progresses, it’s likely that there will be blind spots developing in a person’s peripheral vision.
In the later stages of this type of glaucoma, a person is likely to have difficulty seeing things even in their central vision, which is a sign that vision is deteriorating at an accelerating rate.
Diagnosing glaucoma can be difficult, and it will require your doctor to conduct a thorough assessment of your medical history as well as a comprehensive eye examination. One test your doctor might perform is the tonometry test that measures intraocular pressure.
Your doctor may also want to test for any damage to the optic nerve using a dilated eye examination or specific imaging tests. They may conduct a visual field test which checks for vision loss in certain areas of your vision. It sometimes helps to measure corneal thickness using pachymetry to gain precise cornea measurements.
One last test your doctor can use to diagnose glaucoma is inspecting the angle of drainage, which is referred to as gonioscopy.
Treatment for glaucoma
Damage caused by glaucoma is irreversible, although regular check-ups can slow down vision loss, especially when it’s caught in a relatively early stage. The general approach to treating glaucoma is to lower intraocular pressure, and the best ways to do this are using oral medicines, prescription eyedrops, laser treatment, surgery, or some combination of these treatments.
Treatment for glaucoma will generally begin with prescription eyedrops, most of which have the ability to decrease eye pressure by improving the drainage of fluids away from the eye.
Some types of eyedrops can decrease the amount of fluid produced by your eyes. Depending on how much pressure needs to be relieved in your eyes, a person with glaucoma may require multiple eyedrop prescriptions. Eyedrops alone are sometimes not sufficient to reduce eye pressure to normal levels in situations like these, so your doctor might also recommend an oral medicine to help lower eye pressure.
This should help lower pressure around the eyes to a more desirable level, but if it’s inadequate to accomplish the task, it may be necessary to consider some type of surgery.
Laser therapy is one non-invasive approach that can help relieve pressure on the eye, so no further damage occurs. Laser therapy can be especially effective for those individuals who can’t tolerate eyedrops.
Another type of surgery is known as filtering surgery, and this creates an opening in the white part of the eye, so as to allow fluid to drain out and not build up pressure.
Another surgical procedure calls for inserting a small tube in the eye which drains away excess fluid, so as to accomplish a lowering of eye pressure. The last type of surgery used to treat glaucoma is known as minimally invasive glaucoma surgery. There are several different types of this kind of surgery available, and your eye doctor will discuss with you which one is best suited to your circumstances. As is generally the case, surgery is typically viewed as a last resort, but when you’re faced with the prospect of deteriorating vision, it might be the most desirable option available to you.