Glaucoma is a category of common eye diseases that affect over three million Americans and more than 80 million individuals around the world. This progressive disease causes damage to the optic nerves. If no actions are taken to treat the disease, glaucoma can lead to blindness.
What Causes Glaucoma?
In most cases, damage to the optic nerve causes glaucoma. This is typically accompanied or caused by an increase of intraocular pressure within the eye.
What is the First Sign of Glaucoma?
There are several types of glaucoma, but the most common type is open-angle glaucoma, which gradually develops as the thin channels in the eye become clogged with fluid. This form of glaucoma often results in minimal or no symptoms until the condition has advanced. In contrast, closed-angle glaucoma results in a sharp, sudden blockage within the eye, causing an acute, immediate increase in intraocular pressure. Closed-angle glaucoma typically causes symptoms that are more obvious and may require emergency treatment.
Unfortunately, it is very common for patients who suffer from glaucoma to experience little or no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Often, if an individual does experience symptoms, the disease has already progressed significantly. Once eye pressure within the eye begins to increase, patients may experience some of the first symptoms of glaucoma. Here are the most common first symptoms of glaucoma.
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Seeing halos around lights
- Unusual sensitivity to light
- Eye that looks cloudy or hazy
Individuals should report any changes in vision to an eye doctor immediately, so that a doctor can perform a comprehensive eye exam to look for any signs of glaucoma. Even if the disease has progressed, diagnosing glaucoma as early as possible gives you a better opportunity to prevent further damage.
Family History of Glaucoma
Because glaucoma can be such a silent disease, it is critical that you are aware of as much family medical history as possible. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease, is hereditary. If anyone in your immediate family has open-angle glaucoma, you are four to nine times more likely to get it as well. If you know that glaucoma runs in your family, or has at some point, your eye doctor can be sure to check for glaucoma regularly. Learn more in our blog post Is Glaucoma Hereditary?
Ophthalmologists can use several different tests to evaluate a patient for glaucoma. They may use some or all of these procedures to thoroughly examine your condition.
- Tonometry: this test calculates intraocular pressure. Glaucoma often increases pressure in the eyes, so this is one of the first tests many doctors perform.
- Optical Coherence Tomography: this test looks for abnormalities in the optic nerves by using light wavelengths to map the structure of your eye.
- Pachymetry: this test measures the thickness of your cornea, which allows doctors to better interpret other tests.
- Perimetry: we mentioned before that the first symptom of glaucoma is often loss of peripheral vision. This test checks your vision range, including peripheral.
- Gonioscopy: this test consists of numbing your eyes and examining the space between your cornea and iris. This test is typically conducted when glaucoma is suspected.
Glaucoma Treatment Options
The good news is, glaucoma is treatable. Most often, eye doctors treat glaucoma with eye drops or Selective Laser Trabeculopasty (SLT).
Glaucoma eye drops lower intraocular eye pressure (IOP) to protect the optic nerve. If left untreated, high IOP can damage the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss. Some glaucoma eye drops lower eye pressure by aiding the drainage of fluid in the eye (intraocular fluid), while others decrease production of fluid. Some eye drops do both. Still others enhance the effects of other eye drops and are prescribed in combination.
Selective Laser Trabeculopasty (SLT)
For patients suffering from glaucoma, medicated eye drops are often the first treatment option. However, if it seems that eye drops are not significantly lowering a patient’s intraocular pressure, or if a patient is suffering severe side effects of eye drop medication, your doctor may suggest selective laser trabeculopasty, or SLT. SLT is one of the latest advancements in glaucoma treatment. This laser treatment can effectively lower eye pressure for patients suffering from open-angle glaucoma. Unfortunately, this is not a treatment option for patients experiencing angle-closure glaucoma.
Read more about glaucoma treatment options.
Glaucoma is a serious eye disease, but there are treatment options available. It often begins as a silent disease, with no obvious symptoms appearing until the disease has progressed. If you suspect that you are suffering from glaucoma, or if you are experiencing loss of peripheral vision or sensitivity to light, contact Broberg Eye Care today. We will schedule an appointment and evaluate your vision for any signs of glaucoma.