What exactly is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of optic nerve-damaging eye disorders. It causes the most optic nerve damage and vision loss. Fluid usually collects in your eye front. Extra fluid presses on your eye, causing optic nerve damage. Eye pressure is intraocular pressure (IOP). Normal eye pressure can cause glaucoma. Untreated or poorly managed glaucoma can cause permanent blindness. Glaucoma usually affects both eyes, though it may start in one. Open-angle glaucoma can damage one eye severely and the other mildly. Closed-angle glaucoma in one eye increases the risk of developing it in the other eye by 40% to 80% within five to 10 years.
What are the signs of glaucoma?
Glaucoma warning signs are sought. Some types of glaucoma have no early warning symptoms, and vision changes can happen slowly, making them easy to miss. Routine eye exams can detect the early stages of open-angle glaucoma, which often has no symptoms. Glaucoma damage is irreversible, so early detection and treatment prevent blindness.
Some prominent signs are:
- Pain or pressure in the eyes.
- Lights have rainbow-colored halo effects.
- Low vision symptoms include blurred vision, narrowed vision (tunnel vision), and blind spots.
- Vomiting and nausea.
- The eyes are red.
What causes glaucoma?
Glaucoma develops when the optic nerve is injured. Blind spots appear in your vision as this nerve deteriorates. This nerve damage is usually associated with increased eye pressure for reasons doctors do not fully understand.
Elevated eye pressure is caused by a buildup of fluid that flows through the inside of the eye. This fluid is also known as aqueous humor. It usually drains through tissue at the junction of the iris and cornea. This tissue is also known as the trabecular meshwork. The cornea is essential for vision because it allows light to enter the eye. When the eye produces too much fluid, or the drainage system fails, eye pressure can rise.
What are the various types of glaucoma?
Glaucoma is classified into several types, including:
- Open-angle glaucoma:
The most common type of glaucoma. The angle of drainage formed by the iris and cornea is not closed. However, other parts of the drainage system need to be drained correctly. This may result in a gradual rise in eye pressure.
- Angle-closure glaucoma:
This rare form of glaucoma, also known as angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma, often appears suddenly (acute). It happens when the angle between your iris and cornea becomes too small. It could occur if your pupil changes and becomes too large (dilated) too quickly. This clogs your drainage canals, preventing aqueous fluid from leaving your eye and raising your eye pressure. Severe symptoms, such as eye pain and headaches, necessitate immediate medical attention.
- Normal-tension glaucoma:
Nobody knows why the optic nerve becomes damaged when eye pressure is normal. The optic nerve may be more sensitive or have less blood flow. This restricted blood flow could be caused by fatty deposits in the arteries or other conditions that impair circulation. Atherosclerosis is the accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries.
- Congenital glaucoma:
Some infants are born with improperly formed drainage canals. Your healthcare provider may notice your baby’s glaucoma symptoms at birth or become apparent later in childhood. This condition is also known as childhood, infantile, or pediatric glaucoma.
What risk factors are associated with glaucoma?
Glaucoma can cause vision damage even before you notice any symptoms. Be aware of the following risk factors:
- High intraocular pressure, also known as internal eye pressure
- Over the age of 55
- Black, Asian, or Hispanic ancestry
- Glaucoma in the family
- Medical conditions include diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, and sickle cell anemia.
- Corneas with a thin central layer
- Nearsightedness or farsightedness to extremes
- Injury to the eye or certain types of eye surgery
- Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, particularly eye drops
How are glaucoma identified?
Your doctor will review your medical history and perform a thorough eye examination. Several tests may be performed by your provider, including:
- Tonometry is a method of measuring intraocular pressure.
- A dilated eye examination and imaging tests screen for optic nerve damage.
- A visual field test is used to look for areas of vision loss.
- Pachymetry is a test that measures the thickness of the cornea.
- Examining the drainage angle, also known as gonioscopy.
What is the most effective way to treat glaucoma?
The effects of glaucoma cannot be reversed. However, treatment and regular checkups can help slow or prevent vision loss, especially if the disease is detected early. Lowering intraocular pressure is used to treat glaucoma. Prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of approaches are among the treatment options.
Prescription eye drops are frequently used to begin glaucoma treatment. Some may reduce eye pressure by improving fluid drainage from the eye. Others reduce the amount of fluid produced by your eye. You may be given more than one eye drop depending on how low your eye pressure needs to be.
- Oral medications:
Eye drops alone may not reduce your eye pressure to the desired level. As a result, your eye doctor may also prescribe oral medication. This medication is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor. Frequent urination, tingling in the fingers and toes, depression, stomach upset, and kidney stones are all possible side effects.
- Glaucoma laser therapy:
A laser may be used by your eye doctor to help improve fluid drainage from your eye (a powerful beam of light). Your provider may recommend lasers as an alternative to or in addition to eye drops as a first-line therapy. Laser treatment may not completely replace the use of eye drops. The outcomes of laser treatments vary, but in some cases, they can last for years. Some laser treatments may be repeatable by your provider.
- Surgical treatment for glaucoma:
Another option for lowering eye pressure is surgery. It is more invasive but can achieve better eye pressure control faster than drops or lasers. Although surgery can help slow vision loss, it cannot restore lost vision or cure glaucoma. There are many glaucoma surgeries, and depending on the specific type and severity, your eye doctor may recommend one over another.
How can you prevent glaucoma?
These measures may aid in the early detection and management of glaucoma. This helps prevent or slow the progression of vision loss.
Schedule regular eye exams. Regular comprehensive eye exams can aid in the early detection of glaucoma before significant damage occurs.
Understand your family’s eye health history. Glaucoma often runs in families. You may require more frequent screening if you are at a higher risk.
Wear safety glasses. Severe eye injuries can cause glaucoma. When using power tools or participating in sports, wear eye protection.
Take the prescribed eye drops regularly. Glaucoma eye drops can significantly reduce the risk of developing glaucoma from high eye pressure. Even if you have no symptoms, use the eye drops as directed by your doctor.