The Silent Thief
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S for people over the age of 60, and it is the second leading cause of blindness overall. More than three million Americans have glaucoma, but only half are actually aware that it is slowly stealing away their vision, sometimes without any obvious symptoms.
What is glaucoma?
In general, it is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve, and there are two types of glaucoma that can occur.
Primary Open-Angle: This type is the most common form of glaucoma, and it occurs when the eye does not drain fluid as it should which can create the effect of a clogged drain. As a result, eye pressure will eventually build up and begin to damage the optic nerve. This type generally does not cause symptoms and leads to gradual vision loss. Some people can have optic nerves that are sensitive to normal eye pressure. This means their risk of getting glaucoma is higher than normal and regular eye exams are important to find early signs of damage to their optic nerve.
Angle-Closure: This type occurs when the iris (the part of the eye that contains eye color) blocks the opening to the eye’s drainage canal. This blockage can cause pressure within the eye to build up. This can occur slowly and cause chronic angle-closure glaucoma, or it can occur quickly and cause an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack. This is a serious emergency that can lead to blindness if not treated promptly. Symptoms of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack include severe eye pain, red eyes, blurred vision, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Laser treatment to the iris can usually prevent angle-closure glaucoma.
These two types have something in common. The eye has about one million tiny nerve fibers that carry visual information from the back of the eye to the brain. Both types of glaucoma destroy these nerve fibers. It was once thought that the destruction of these fibers was due to high pressure within the eye, but we now know that even patients with normal eye pressure can have glaucoma and experience loss of important nerve function.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma can often go unnoticed during its early stages because it usually does not cause pain or immediate changes in vision. If you have glaucoma, you may not notice any warning signs or blatant symptoms until your vision has suffered irreversible damage.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Regular eye examinations are recommended because the early detection of glaucoma is crucial in order to limit the amount of vision loss associated with it. Increased levels of pressure within the eye and other indicators of glaucoma, such as optic nerve damage, can be detected only by a thorough examination. At Mattax Neu Prater Eye Center, we offer advanced evaluation techniques to detect early signs of optic nerve damage so that you can adequately prepare yourself for further treatment if necessary.
Am I at risk for glaucoma?
Typically, glaucoma affects people over the age of 40, but it can occur at any age. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but some groups are at a higher risk than others.
Who is at a High Risk: People 65 years or older, family members of those already diagnosed with glaucoma, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, diabetics, and those who are nearsighted or who have suffered severe injury to the eye.
Cataract formation is another risk factor. Again, early detection is the key to slowing or halting the progression of this disease. If you have any of these risk factors, a thorough eye examination to evaluate for glaucoma is recommended.
How is glaucoma treated?
Although there currently is no cure for glaucoma, there are several effective treatment options to slow or halt the progression of this disease. Medication usually comes in the form of eye drops, and they can help to relieve pressure within the eye.
Recent advances in laser surgery make it possible to improve the underlying condition that contributes to elevation of pressure within the eye.
Open-angle glaucoma can be treated with ALT (ArgonLaser Trabeculoplasty), and a peripheral iridotomy procedure can be performed to treat closed-angle glaucoma.
However, if these treatments are not effective, the most common surgical option, trabeculectomy, can be performed to alter the eye’s drainage system.
An innovative treatment for patients with both cataracts and glaucoma. iStent® is the smallest medical device ever approved by the FDA, and is placed inside the eye during cataract surgery. It is so small that you won’t be able to see or feel it after surgery, but it works continuously to help reduce eye pressure by improving outflow of fluid from the eyes. After implantation, many patients are able to control their eye pressure. In a U.S. clinical trial, iStent® patients who achieved a target pressure of < 21 were more likely not to need their medications than patients with cataract surgery only.
Dr. Kenneth Neu can explain treatment options in more detail.
Can I prevent glaucoma?
No, but regular eye exams can make it possible to prevent much of the vision loss caused by glaucoma. Dr. Kenneth Neu is among the area’s most experienced glaucoma specialists. At Mattax Neu Prater Eye Center, we are dedicated to providing the most advanced techniques and equipment to help preserve the vision you need to live life on your terms.