Understanding Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight
Read below for a better understanding of how glaucoma affects your eyesight, and the modern treatments available to help you save it.
Glaucoma is a dangerous disease of the eye that can slowly and painlessly steal your sight. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States – Often called the ‘silent thief of sight’ because there are no symptoms. Over half of the people in the United States that suffer from glaucoma are not aware that they are going blind. Although the cause of glaucoma is still unknown, there are several known risk factors that may increase your risk of developing the disease. These risk factors include family history of the disease, high eye pressure (also known as intraocular pressure, or IOP), being African-American or Hispanic, and older age. Because glaucoma has no early symptoms, anyone with any of these risk factors should schedule eye exams on a regular basis so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before vision loss occurs.
Often associated with pressure buildup in the eye, glaucoma damages vision by destroying the optic nerve – the nerve that connects your eye to your brain, and carries all visual information to your brain for processing. Those suffering from glaucoma will lose their peripheral, or side vision, first. If the disease continues untreated, this vision loss will move towards the center of the eye – first causing tunnel vision, and eventually, blindness. Although the cause for this nerve damage is unknown, the high IOP associated with glaucoma is likely to play a major roll. IOP is a measurement of the fluid pressure inside of the eye. Ideally, the eye is filled with a clear fluid that is drained through a spigot. However, with glaucoma the drain gets plugged and the fluid in the eye can no longer exit, causing a rise in IOP. Although, as some cases of glaucoma do not suffer high IOP, careful examination of the optic nerve and potential glaucoma damage is crucial. In this case, a Visual Field test should be performed. The visual field test can help determine if you’ve begun to lose eyesight as a result of glaucoma.
Treatment of Glaucoma
Fortunately, treatments are available to save the vision of those suffering from glaucoma. Reducing IOP is the goal for glaucoma treatments and saving the eye from nerve damage. Modern treatments include eye drops, laser therapy, and surgery.
Eye drop medications reduce the amount of fluid that enters the eye, or increases the amount of fluid that exits – both are used to reduce IOL. Several different medications available for glaucoma differ in their ability to lower IOP and may have side effects. When medications fail to lower IOP or cannot be tolerated by the patient, doctors often turn to laser therapy. Advances in laser therapy have made these tools so safe and effective, laser therapy may be considered instead of medication. If all of these methods fail to bring IOP down to a safe level, surgery to lower IOP is available. You and your doctor will work to develop a safe and effective treatment plan.
*As with any surgical procedure there are risks along with benefits. It is important to discuss your surgical procedure with your surgeon to fully understand the risks and benefits.