What Is Glaucoma?
Millions of Americans suffer from glaucoma, an eye condition caused by increased fluid pressure on the optic nerve that may lead to gradual loss of vision. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, and is especially dangerous since many people are unaware they have the condition until permanent visual damage has already occurred. Glaucoma is prevalent in people over the age of 40; however, it can occur at any age. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and treatment can successfully prevent further vision loss and save your eyesight. Our experienced board-certified ophthalmologists offer a number of advanced glaucoma treatment options here at Riverside EyeCare Professionals.
Please contact us today for more information, or to schedule a consultation here at our practice.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is typically caused by the buildup of aqueous fluid within the eye, resulting from an imbalance of fluid production and the eye’s natural drainage system. This fluid creates excess intraocular pressure and when left untreated, gradually causes damage to the optic nerve, decreasing your eyesight. Glaucoma is commonly a genetic disorder, though it can afflict anyone. Since little to no symptoms usually occur in the beginning stages, glaucoma can progress over the course of several years without a person realizing it. Due to this fact, glaucoma is often detected when it has reached a more advanced stage, when vision loss has become more noticeable.
There are a variety of types of glaucoma – a condition typically characterized by fluid build-up in the eye that is not able to drain in the normal way. This intraocular pressure ultimately affects the optic nerve, and can lead to a slow loss of vision and total blindness if left untreated. Symptoms of glaucoma can go unnoticed for a long time, giving this condition the dubious distinction of being “the silent thief of sight.” Depending on the type of glaucoma you have, you may experience a gradual loss of peripheral vision and reduced visual clarity (especially at night). Some types of glaucoma can have symptoms that manifest very rapidly, causing intense pain and pressure in the eye, blurry vision and light sensitivity, halos, and even nausea.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Individuals at risk for glaucoma include:
- People over 40
- African-Americans age 35 and older
- Those who are extremely near-sighted
- Those who are long-term steroid users
- Those who have experienced trauma to the eye
- Those with a family history of glaucoma
It is extremely important – particularly if you are 35 or over and regardless of whether you are at a high risk for glaucoma – to have a glaucoma exam. Those who are 60 years of age and older should have a glaucoma exam at least once each year.
Types of Glaucoma
The two main types of glaucoma include open-angle glaucoma and narrow-angle glaucoma. Both are caused by the increase of pressure within the eye, but each type differs in how this occurs and the rate at which it rises.
- Open-Angle Glaucoma: The most common type, open-angle glaucoma is caused by the gradual blocking of the eye’s drainage system over time. As a result, fluid begins to accumulate, causing pressure within the eye to increase. Symptoms of early open-angle glaucoma typically go unnoticed since the condition develops so slowly. As it progresses, vision loss becomes more apparent.
- Narrow-Angle Glaucoma: Also referred to as acute angle-closure glaucoma, this type of glaucoma is an emergency condition that develops rapidly and requires immediate medical attention. Narrow-angle glaucoma is caused by the iris arching forward, creating a partial or full block of the eye’s drainage system. This leads to rapid fluid buildup causing eye pressure to reach a dangerous level. Symptoms of narrow-angle glaucoma are typically very noticeable.
The best way to detect open-angle glaucoma is to attend routine eye exams, allowing your doctor to monitor your ocular pressure and vision health. If you have noticed sudden vision loss, however, you may have narrow-angle glaucoma and should seek medical attention immediately.
What Are My Glaucoma Treatment Options?
Once you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, our ophthalmologists can perform advanced treatments to relieve pressure build-up in the eye. Some of our treatment options include:
Medicinal Glaucoma Eye Drops
Prescription eye drops are generally the first option our ophthalmologists explore when treating glaucoma. There are a variety of eye drops you may be prescribed, but the majority of them are designed to reduce eye pressure to protect the optic nerve. Some medications work to help fluid drain better from the eye, while others aim to decrease the amount of fluid the eye produces. A combination of prescription eye drops may be suitable for achieving the best treatment results. For the right patients, these eye drops can potentially provide years of eye pressure control. Daily adherence to the eye drop regimen your ophthalmologist prescribes for your glaucoma is essential.
Argon Laser Trabeculoplasty (ALT)
Argon laser trabeculoplasty (ALT) is a treatment specifically for open-angle glaucoma. This laser surgery is a very quick treatment that can decrease pressure and reduce or eliminate your need for eye drops. ALT is designed to help fluid drain faster from the eye, thus reducing eye pressure. It is typically recommended after patients have tried or used eye drop treatments and before traditional glaucoma surgery is indicated.
Endoscopic Cyclophotocoagulation (ECP)
Endoscopic cyclophotocoagulation (ECP) is a laser technique designed to stop fluid-producing cells from creating excessive pressure inside the eye. ECP can often be performed during cataract surgery, or as a stand-alone glaucoma procedure.
The iStent® implant is a trabecular micro-bypass device designed to lower intraocular pressure in patients with mild to moderate open-angle glaucoma. During the procedure, which can be performed at the same time as cataract surgery, the tiny iStent® device is placed to create a clear channel through which fluid can drain. With the iStent® in position, patients can enjoy controlled eye pressure and may reduce their reliance on eye drop medications.
Ahmed® Shunt Surgery
Shunt surgery is a procedure that places a small plastic tube (we use the Ahmed® tube shunt) inside the eye to drain excess fluid. The fluid is absorbed into surrounding tissues.
When glaucoma has reached the moderate to advanced stage, a procedure called trabeculectomy surgery may be recommended. This surgery is considered a gold standard procedure for the treatment of glaucoma. Trabeculectomy is designed to lower pressure in the eye by creating a drainage system that bypasses the improperly functioning trabecular meshwork (the main pathway for drainage) in those with glaucoma. Our eye surgeons are highly skilled and experienced in performing delicate trabeculectomy procedures. Patients who undergo trabeculectomy are typically able to experience eye pressure relief for five years or more.
Laser glaucoma procedures are most often performed in an out-patient surgical facility. The exact type of treatment you receive will depend on your individual needs; however, many glaucoma procedures are quick, virtually painless, and go a long way in saving your vision while reducing the risks of this very serious condition.
Schedule a Consultation with Riverside EyeCare Professionals
For more information on glaucoma and the treatment options available from our practice, or if you would like to schedule a consultation at Riverside EyeCare Professionals, please contact us today.