Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to vision loss or blindness. It is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old. There is no known cure for glaucoma, but it is possible to preserve your vision with proper care. Early treatment is key to delaying or preventing vision loss. Most of the time, glaucoma doesn't have any initial symptoms; in fact, half of the people with glaucoma may not know they have it. Regular eye exams with an experienced optometrist or ophthalmologist are crucial to an early diagnosis. In this post, we will discuss in more detail what glaucoma is, your risk factors, possible treatments, and how Prairie Eye Care provides comprehensive glaucoma care.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a chronic, progressive disease that damages the optic nerve at the back of the eye. When fluid builds up, this increases pressure in the eye, damaging the nerve fibres at the back that attach the retina to the brain. The optic nerve carries the visual messages from the eye to the brain and allows us to see, so damage to this nerve will lead to vision loss and, eventually blindness. There are a few different types of glaucoma, but the two main types are open and closed. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common and accounts for about 90% of all cases. This is a lifelong condition where the eye's drainage canals become clogged over time, damaging the optic nerve. Fortunately, with regular eye exams, open-angle glaucoma can be found early and usually responds well to treatment. Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the fluid in the eye is suddenly blocked and can no longer flow out of the eye. This causes a quick rise in eye pressure. Closed-angle glaucoma is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Who is at risk of developing glaucoma?
Anyone can get glaucoma, but there are a few groups who are at higher risk:
Glaucoma is more common in older adults, particularly those over 60.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as non-diabetics.
You may also be at higher risk if you have a family history of glaucoma.
If you are of African, Asian, or Hispanic heritage, you may be at higher risk for glaucoma.
Long-term steroid use increases your risk of glaucoma.
Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wearing eye protection when playing sports or using tools can help prevent your risk of injury.
Maintaining healthy habits such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking will reduce your risk of developing glaucoma.
What are some symptoms of glaucoma?
Again, symptoms of glaucoma do not often present themselves in the early stages, and a comprehensive eye exam is the only way to get a proper diagnosis. Over time, some symptoms may gradually present themselves, such as:
patchy spots in your peripheral (side) vision
gradual vision loss
If you have symptoms that come on suddenly, such as:
sudden vision loss or disturbances
severe eye pain
nausea or vomiting
seeing colored rings or lights
You may suffer from acute closed-angle glaucoma and need treatment as soon as possible. Call your eye doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
How does Prairie Eye Care provide glaucoma care?
At Prairie Eye Care, we screen for glaucoma during every comprehensive eye exam. During your exam, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will:
Check your eye pressure.
Using eye drops and a special device called a tonometer, your eye doctor can measure the inner pressure of the eye. While eye pressure is unique to each person, most glaucoma cases occur when pressure exceeds 20 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury). High pressure in the inner eye is often one of the first signs of glaucoma.
Inspect your optic nerve for damage.
Eye drops dilate the pupils and see through your eye to observe the retina and optic nerve. Your doctor will magnify the optic nerve to examine and inspect for damage. Special equipment is used to take a picture of and computer measurements of your optic nerve.
Test your peripheral vision.
A visual field test will determine your complete field of vision. This is how much your eyes can see while focusing on a central point. Peripheral vision loss is a common sign of glaucoma progression.
Keeping up with regular comprehensive eye exams is so important when it comes to early diagnosis, as it's often the first sign of disease. Glaucoma often gives warnings once it has become advanced.
Prairie Eye Care comprises a group of highly trained optometrists and now provides ophthalmologist services. An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine specializing in optometry, meaning they are qualified to provide advanced visual care, treatment and prevention of medical disorders, and perform eye surgery. This can include the treatment of serious eye conditions such as glaucoma.
What treatments are available?
There is no cure for glaucoma, and glaucoma damage cannot be reversed. It's not always possible to stop the progression of vision loss caused by glaucoma, but with early treatment, it can almost always be slowed. If you've been diagnosed with glaucoma, your treatment plan will depend on your specific case.
While glaucoma damage cannot be reversed, and it is not always possible to fully stop the progression of the disease, it can almost always be slowed with proper treatment. Treatment is dependent on your specific case and type of glaucoma but can include:
Prescription eye drops
Glaucoma treatment usually starts with eye drops. Depending on your circumstance, your drops may decrease eye pressure by improving how fluid drains from the eye, or they can reduce the amount of fluid your eye makes.
Oral medication may be prescribed if eye drops don't bring the pressure down to the desired level.
Surgery may be needed to control your glaucoma. This may include laser therapy, drainage tubes, filtering therapy (trabeculectomy), or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS).
The thought of losing your eyesight can be scary, which is why the trained staff at Prairie Eye Care is so passionate about caring for your eye health. Scheduling regular eye exams is the best way to prevent and treat eye diseases such as glaucoma and others. Be sure to ask your eye doctor any questions or concerns about glaucoma or your eye health.