More than three million Americans suffer from glaucoma right now, and 2.7 million of those are over the age of 40. Glaucoma eye treatment is readily available, but those who don’t seek out treatment risk going blind. Some 10% of people who receive treatment, however, still suffer vision loss.
This is an eye condition that can cause real damage, but when you know the symptoms, and with regular check-ups with your eye doctor, you can get the glaucoma eye treatment you need.
What Is Glaucoma?
So what is glaucoma? It’s a term that refers to several different eye conditions, all of which damage the optic nerve. This is the nerve found at the back of the eye that transmits visual data from the eye to the brain, allowing you to see. Typically the damage done to the optic nerve is caused by pressure placed on the nerve.
It’s one of the leading causes of blindness in elderly people, and it’s also one of the best examples of why regular eye check-ups are important. When spotted early, it can be treated. When left untreated, it can cause permanent blindness.
Types of Glaucoma
There are several kinds of glaucoma, the most common variant being open-angle glaucoma. Narrow-angle glaucoma is also a common condition but makes up less than 20% of total glaucoma cases.
To understand the differences, you must first understand that the eye is filled with a liquid known as aqueous humor. This holds the shape of your eye and feeds the internal components of the eye so they can continue functioning properly. Your body is always producing new aqueous humor to keep the eye healthy and flushes out the old.
With open-angle glaucoma, the structures that let this fluid drain out of the eye are damaged. In open-angle glaucoma, the trabecular meshwork, that assists with drainage, resists against draining in the eye. This causes pressure to build inside the eye, which damages the optic nerve.
In narrow-angle glaucoma, however, the meshwork and the uveoscleral drain both become blocked, which stops drainage completely. This creates even more extreme intraocular pressure.
The “angle” refers to the angle at which the iris sits next to the cornea. With narrow-angle glaucoma, the iris is pushed directly against the cornea, stopping drainage. In open-angle glaucoma, however, the iris stays in the right position and the drainage canals aren’t blocked. Drainage is hindered because the trabecular meshwork has stopped functioning normally.
Glaucoma symptoms don’t give you much warning. Most people who have the problem aren’t even aware until slowly it becomes so bad that vision starts being impaired.
Usually, the first thing people notice is that peripheral vision becomes affected and people may begin seeing rainbow-colored halos around sources of bright light. The condition worsens slowly, which just goes to show how important regular eye check-ups are.
Other likely signs of glaucoma to look out for include:
- Red eye
- Stomach problems and nausea
- Intense pain in the eye
- Blurry vision
- A feeling as though you need more light to see
If you experience any of these symptoms you may be developing glaucoma. If you experience intense pain and vision loss you should visit your eye doctor or the emergency room immediately. If the symptoms are intermittent, you must arrange a check-up as soon as possible.
When it comes to glaucoma causes, the main factor to consider is age. Young people do experience this condition, but it happens mostly to people over the age of 40.
Some contributing factors that may make you more likely to experience this problem range from race to family history. Certain ethnicities may be more prone to suffering from the condition and your eye doctor will be able to discuss your family and genetic history to determine your predisposition.
You are also more likely to experience glaucoma if you fit any of the following criteria:
- You are farsighted or nearsighted
- You already have high eye pressure
- You take steroid medications
- You have diabetes
- You have a family member who suffers from glaucoma
- You have heart disease
- You have high blood pressure
It’s hard to know whether you have the condition without a regular eye check-up. Being aware of these contributing factors helps you remain hypervigilant about your eye health!
Doctors know how to treat glaucoma once it is identified, but it depends on you visiting your eye doctor for a diagnosis. Glaucoma treatment can’t reverse the damage already done, but it can stop the vision loss from getting worse and prevent it from happening to your other eye.
For this reason, it’s always best to know how to prevent glaucoma – and the only way to do that is to regularly see your doctor for tests, especially if you know you are vulnerable.
Treatment for glaucoma can take the form of medication or surgery. Topical medication, which comes in the form of prescription eye drops, reduces the pressure in your eye and stops vision loss from deteriorating. The medication used is generally the same as the medication prescribed for high eye-pressure.
In many cases, sufferers may need to use eyedrops for the rest of their lives.
Treatment can also take the form of minimally-invasive surgery and trabecular and shunt surgery. Minimally invasive surgery involves making small incisions that cause very little trauma to the eye, allowing the aqueous humor to drain.
Trabecular and shunt surgery reduces the need for medication and creates new drainage channels for the fluid in the eye.
Laser surgery has also been used for over 25 years, and while effective, typically needs to be done every five years.
How does marijuana help glaucoma?
This is a controversial topic and not one on which everyone agrees. Limited research suggests that marijuana can reduce pressure in the eye, and stop the progression of glaucoma temporarily.
Can glaucoma be cured?
No, there is no cure for glaucoma yet. Medication and surgery can stop the loss of vision, but cannot reverse the effects of the condition.
Is glaucoma hereditary?
It can be. Open-angle glaucoma is hereditary, so if an immediate family member suffers from the condition, you are more likely to experience it in later life too. Having a family history of glaucoma can increase your chances of developing it four times over.
What does glaucoma look like?
Glaucoma is defined by the pressure placed on the optic nerve. A person with glaucoma may have blurred vision, see glares, or feel like they need more light to see.
What is the first sign of glaucoma?
The first sign of glaucoma is typically blurred vision or seeing rainbow-colored halos around sources of bright light.
What age do you usually get glaucoma?
Most people get glaucoma over the age of 40.
Glaucoma is a life-changing condition, but when caught early, the damage it does can be minimized and controlled.
At the Kraff Eye Institute, we have vast experience successfully treating glaucoma and achieving the best outcomes for our patients. We offer regular check-ups to ensure your eyes are in optimal health and our range of treatments will ensure you retain your vision for years to come.
Schedule your appointment by calling our office at (312) 444-1111. We look forward to hearing from you!