Glaucoma is an extremely serious condition that affects the eyes and can lead to permanent, irreversible vision loss. It is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States, only second to cataracts in the number of people affected. It is just as serious as other potentially devastating eye conditions such as macular degeneration. Being informed and knowing the facts about glaucoma can help prevent potential loss of vision and reduce risk factors for this condition.
Causes of Glaucoma
Overall, this condition is characterized as a failure of the eye to maintain a balance between the amount of intraocular fluid that is produced in the eye and the amount of fluid that drains. This increased fluid and sub sequential increase in intraocular pressure can cause irreversible damage to the optic nerve. This can be caused by an obstruction in the eye thus preventing fluid from properly draining, resulting in high IOP levels. While this is the most common origin of glaucoma, there are other causes. But each have the same result, detrimental damage to the optic nerve.
The signs and symptoms of glaucoma depend on the type of condition for which the patient is afflicted. 90% of cases are open angle glaucoma diagnosis’s and are painless, non-acute attacks. The only signs of this condition are optic nerve changes and increased cup to disc ratio that is only found during a complete eye exam. The patient will only notice a slow, gradual loss of their peripheral field of vision. It will progressively start to resemble tunnel vision as the individual begins to notice their side vision decreasing. Closed angle glaucoma is a very sudden, acute version of the condition. It presents with extremely high IOP levels, ocular pain, red eyes, appearance of halos around lights, sudden loss of vision and even nausea with vomiting. This type of glaucoma is severe and must be treated as a serious emergency.
There is no cure for this condition and vision loss can not be restored. However, there are treatment options that can save the remaining vision and slow the progression of the disease. The form of care will depend on the type of glaucoma, the severity thus far and the overall health and current medications of the patient. Options include medications in drop or pill form and surgical procedures.
Medications can be prescribed in pill form or as eye drops, depending on the desired results. Either form works to lower pressure by either increasing the drainage ability of the eye or by causing the eye to actually produce less fluid. Most of these medications have minimal to no side effects. However, the drop form can cause initial stinging, burning or redness of the eye. Both may react negatively to other prescriptions that an individual is already using so informing the eye doctor of all current medications is essential to devising a proper treatment plan. It is extremely important to use glaucoma prescriptions exactly as directed to ensure their success.
Procedures to slow the progression of the disease commonly fall into two surgical categories, conventional surgery or laser trabeculoplasty. Conventional operations are done after laser treatments and medications have failed to be successful. They are done in an operating room under anesthesia. The doctor will inject the eye for numbing purposes then remove a small piece of tissue to create a new opening for fluid to leave the eye. Laser trabeculoplasty helps improve the drainage ability of mesh that has previously been placed in the eye. It can be performed in the office or clinic with simply numbing drops in the eye. A laser is used to make evenly spaced burns in the mesh, creating larger, more productive drainage holes.
Relationship Between Glaucoma and Cataracts
Both are serious conditions that can be part of the natural process of aging and both can cause significant loss of vision, even blindness. Cataract surgery can impact pressure in the eye and result in dramatic changes. While surgery can reverse the ill effects of cataracts, it can not do the same for glaucoma. Modern times have seen advancements that allow doctors to potentially perform both surgeries at one time.
The absolute best prevention for the consequences of glaucoma is a yearly preventive eye exam. These thorough exams can provide early detection of the condition. There are no known ways to prevent the onset of the disease, but there are ways to prevent further vision loss. Individuals should be aware of the risk factors in case they fall into one of these categories. Diabetics, those with family history of glaucoma as well as those with African descent are all at a higher risk for developing the disease. Moderate, weekly exercise has shown to be beneficial as it can lower IOP levels. Walking and jogging are great examples of such exercise. A healthy, well balanced diet is also great for improving not only mental but overall physical health.