Glaucoma is a disease that results in injury to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the portion of the eye that takes the images collected from the eye and transmits them to the brain. Each eye naturally maintains a certain internal pressure, which is called intraocular pressure. When this pressure rises above normal levels, it can injure the optic nerve, causing significant damage. Optic nerve damage results in vision loss, pain, and left untreated, blindness.
The anterior (front) portion of the eye is always producing a fluid called aqueous humor. A healthy eye will produce a constant supply of aqueous humor to maintain consistent pressure within the eye, which is matched by a draining mechanism that allows the fluid to escape into the blood stream. When drainage becomes blocked or limited, pressure increases and may result in glaucoma. There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and closed-angle glaucoma.
Chronic open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma. It usually develops with increasing age. This form of glaucoma results in a chronic and gradual pressure increase in the eye, which over time begins to damage the optic nerve. Most people have no perceptible symptoms until the disease has become advanced after many years. Loss of peripheral vision is usually the first symptom patients will notice. As the disease progresses untreated, larger portions of vision will disappear. If left untreated, it can develop into blindness.
Early detection is key
Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent. This visual loss can often be prevented if detected and treated early enough. Glaucoma treatment is a lifelong process that requires monitoring of the eye pressure and, most commonly, a daily set of eye drops. As with most eye diseases, by the time the patient realizes that a problem exists, permanent damage and visual loss has already occurred. For this reason, during every eye visit, Dr. Switch specifically evaluate the optic never to ensure no early warning signs are present to indicate an previously undiagnosed glaucoma.
Risk factors for chronic open-angle glaucoma include:
- Increasing age
- African-American heritage
- Elevated blood pressure
- Family history of glaucoma
- Long-term steroid treatment
- Injury or trauma to the eye
A less common form of glaucoma, Closed-angle glaucoma, is likely to result in an ocular emergency. This type of glaucoma occurs when a patient’s pupil dilates in such a way that it actually blocks the drainage structures inside the eye. This is considered an emergency and can result in permanent vision loss in a short period of time if untreated by and ophthalmologist.
Symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma:
- Severe eye pain in one or both eyes.
- Boring Headache.
- Blurred vision or halos around vision.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Risk factors for closed-angle glaucoma:
- Abnormal shape of the iris.
- Increasing age.
- Family history of closed-angle glaucoma.
- Asian decent.
Treatments options for glaucoma:
There are many treatments for glaucoma, including medicated eye drops, LASER surgery and traditional surgery. The specific treatment for an individual patient is based upon the type of glaucoma. Medication options include drops that decrease the production of fluid in the eye as well as improve the eye’s ability to drain normally. LASER surgery is a more advanced treatment for glaucoma. For open-angle glaucoma, Dr. Switch may choose a procedure called a trabeculoplasty, which is a painless procedure that utilizes light to open the drainage canals of the eye. For closed-angle glaucoma, another painless option incorporates the use of a LASER to open a small drainage port in the iris called a peripheral iridotomy.
SLT (Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty) is an in-office laser procedure that reduces eye pressure for most patients with chronic forms of glaucoma. The SLT laser selectively targets the type of cell that clogs the drainage mechanism of the eye, in essence, unclogging the drain without the use of medications or invasive surgery.
The bottom line:
Regular eye exams allow Dr. Switch to evaluate your eyes for any signs of glaucoma. He will be able to diagnose a problem before you notice symptoms, which means treatment can be started early enough to prevent damage from ever occurring. There are many treatment options available, Dr. Switch will be able to help you decide which option is best for your situation and will work with you to help you maintain your vision for the rest of your life.