What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve. The nerve connects the eye to the brain. If the nerve is damaged, transmission of information to the brain is affected resulting in eventual vision loss.
Types of glaucoma
Glaucoma is called the “sneak-thief of sight” because in its early stage, there are no symptoms. Although it cannot be cured, it can usually be controlled. Left untreated, damage to the optic nerve can result in loss of vision and could eventually lead to blindness. The eye receives its nourishment from a clear fluid that circulates inside the eye called aqueous that is produced behind the iris, flows through the pupil and returns to the bloodstream through a drainage canal called the trabecular meshwork. In the case of open-angle glaucoma, this drainage canal stops working properly and the aqueous fluid exits the eye too slowly. This increase in fluid creates pressure on the delicate optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for sending visual signals to the brain. A part of your exam usually involves checking for high pressure and taking a magnified look at the optic nerve for any sign of change. To control glaucoma, your doctor will choose from three basic types of treatment: medicines that lower the intraocular pressure inside the eye, laser surgery (YAG or SLT) or filtration surgery using devices such as the Express Shunt or iStent. The goal of all three of these treatments is to lower the pressure in the eye.
A small percentage of people with glaucoma have a condition known as narrow-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur slowly and progressively or very quickly and can only be detected through an eye exam. Narrow-angle glaucoma occurs when increased pressure causes the iris to be pushed forwards, blocking the drainage channel completely. Because fluid cannot exit the eye, pressure in the eye spikes rapidly. This can quickly result in emergency condition called acute closed-angle glaucoma, which can result if blindness if not immediately diagnosed and treated. Possible symptoms of narrow-angle glaucoma include blurred vision, severe eye pain, headaches, halos, or nausea and vomiting. A very important reason to make sure and see your optometrist or ophthalmologist on a yearly basis is to monitor for these conditions. When caught early, they can be controlled and vision can be preserved.
How do I know if I have glaucoma?
With rare exceptions, glaucoma has no symptoms. There is no pain or discomfort to the eye, only a gradual loss of vision. This change may occur over weeks, months, or even years before you realize you are losing vision. But take heart, The Eye Institute of Utah utilizes a sophisticated instrument option that can detect glaucoma even before symptoms occur.
Who gets glaucoma?
Those most at risk for the disease include people over 40 years old, African-Americans aged 35 years and older, people with a family history of glaucoma, diabetics, long-term steroid users and very near-sighted people.
What causes glaucoma?
In most cases, glaucoma is caused by elevated pressure inside the eye. Yet pressure is not the only risk factor. There are many patients with normal pressures who still have the disease. That’s why it’s important to visit The Eye Institute of Utah on a regular basis to determine if you are developing glaucoma.
How do doctors detect glaucoma?
Measurement of eye pressure, optic nerve health evalutation and side vision testing all provide valuable information in establishing a diagnosis of glaucoma. The Eye Institute uses an infrared laser to measure the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer, which is the tissue directly affected by glaucoma. The screening is comfortable and convenient. A computer maps the nerve fibers and instantly compares them to a database of normal readings. Thin nerve fiber readings indicate the onset of glaucoma and the need for further testing.
How is glaucoma treated?
One of our glaucoma specialists at The Eye Institute of Utah, Dr. Alan Crandall or Dr. Gregory Christiansen, may recommend medication for treatment. This is usually in the form of eye drops. Medication won’t cure the disease, but can keep it under control. If medication proves ineffective, you may need surgery. This may involve the use of a laser or an operative procedure to create a more efficient, pressure-controlling, drainage system. The surgical staff at The Eye Institute has successfully performed thousands of these procedures.