What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a complex group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve without warning. Damage occurs when eye pressure rises to an injurious level. The eye is always producing fluid (aqueous) near the back that drains near the front. If fluid production exceeds drainage, damaging pressure develops. The result is injury to the optic nerve carrying vision from the eye to the brain. This is manifest as loss of peripheral vision that can be so subtle in the early stages that patients may not know they have damage until it becomes severe. In some cases, damage occurs even with “normal” pressures making early detection technology critically important. Monitoring for damage typically involves three measurements: eye pressure, optic nerve evaluation and measurement of the peripheral vision of visual field.
Glaucoma has no warning signs. It causes vision loss when left untreated. The only way to detect glaucoma before any vision is lost is to get an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam. Through a comprehensive dilated eye exam, the doctors at The Vision Care Center can detect early signs of glaucoma before vision is lost. This exam allows the doctors to get a better look at the retina (light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) and optic nerve for signs of damage and other eye problems.
Anyone can develop glaucoma. People at higher risk include African Americans over age 40, everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans and people with a family history of glaucoma.
What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. It causes no pain, and vision remains normal. As glaucoma remains untreated, people may notice they miss objects to the side and out of the corners of their eyes.
Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead vision may decrease until no vision remains. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.
Increased eye pressure means you are at risk for glaucoma, but it does not mean you have the disease. A person has glaucoma only if the optic nerve is damaged. If you have increased eye pressure but no damage to the optic nerve, you do not have glaucoma. However you are at risk, which is why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is important. It doesn’t hurt – it’s easy – and it could save your sight.
Treatment of Glaucoma
Treatment centers on lowering eye pressure. This often can be addressed medically with eye drops or procedurally with laser treatment or surgery. Medical treatment often centers on reducing fluid production, but both laser treatment and surgery optimize fluid drainage. Laser treatment does this by optimizing drainage through the eye’s natural mechanism. Surgical treatment creates a new pathway. A successful surgical result will produce a small blister or bleb on the top of the eye where the fluid now drains.
Treatment of glaucoma is most successful if detected early. The Vision Care Center is committed to providing the most advanced technology available for early detection and treatment of glaucoma. This includes both HRT and OCT for detection or early optic nerve damage. Additionally, both our downtown and Gateway locations are equipped with computerized visual field analyzers for early detection of peripheral vision loss.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
The risk of glaucoma increases with age, so it’s important for patients over 40 to schedule an eye exam annually. Additional risk factors include family history, African American ancestry and a history of steroid use.