Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve, the part of the eye which receives images collected by the retina and sends them to the brain. Every eye maintains a certain amount of internal pressure, called intraocular pressure. When this pressure rises to abnormal levels however, it can put extra stress on the optic nerve, causing significant damage. Optic nerve damage results in loss of vision, and ultimately blindness.
The front of the eye is constantly producing a fluid called aqueous humor. A healthy eye will continually produce small amounts of aqueous humor to ensure consistent pressure within the eye. When normal drainage becomes slowed or blocked, pressure increases, and may lead to glaucoma. There are several different types of glaucoma the two most common types being chronic open-angle glaucoma and closed-angle glaucoma.
Chronic open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease and usually develops with age. With this type of glaucoma, pressure gradually increases around the eye causing it to work less effectively over a period of time. There are no symptoms in the early stages of open-angle glaucoma. Peripheral vision is usually the first to deteriorate. As the disease becomes more advanced, blank spots begin to appear in one’s vision. If left untreated, it eventually develops to blindness. The best way to avoid serious vision loss is early diagnosis and treatment.
Risk factors for chronic open-angle glaucoma include:
Closed-angle glaucoma is less prevalent, but is considered a real eye emergency. This type of glaucoma occurs when a patient’s pupil moves or dilates and actually blocks off the drainage angles in the eye. This is considered a medical emergency in which an ophthalmologist should be contacted immediately to avoid any loss of vision.
There are a wide range of treatments for the disease, including medication, laser surgery and traditional surgery. The treatment (or combination of treatments) for an individual is chosen based upon the type of glaucoma and other details of the particular case. One option is medication such as prescription eye drops which help to reduce intraocular pressure, or pills called carbonic anhydrase inhibitors which slow down fluid production within the eye.
Laser surgery has also become a common treatment option for glaucoma. For open-angle glaucoma the doctor may choose a trabeculoplasty, a painless laser procedure which uses light to shrink and stretch eye tissue to allow more drainage of fluid. For closed-angle cases, in which the iris is blocking drainage of aqueous humor, a laser surgery called iridotomy may be preformed.
Other glaucoma treatment options involve various traditional surgeries. A common surgery for open-angle glaucoma is the trabeculectomy, where a doctor creates a small flap in the sclera (white part of the eye). Underneath the surface of the sclera, the doctor creates a small reservoir, called a filtration bleb, into which aqueous fluid may drain and then be disbursed, further reducing intraocular pressure.
There are a number of treatments available for Glaucoma patients. If diagnosed with glaucoma, your ophthalmologist will consult with you on your options in order to maintain the best possible health of your eyes.