Glaucoma is estimated to affect as many as 3 million adults in the United States at any one time. This common condition can lead to irreversible vision loss if you are not diagnosed and treated promptly, severely affecting your quality of life. Fortunately, routine comprehensive eye exams can successfully diagnose glaucoma, enabling you to get prompt access to treatment, preserving your long-term vision.
Glaucoma is the accumulation of pressure inside the eyes that causes damage to the optic nerve. This is the main nerve that runs between the retina at the back of the eye and the brain. It’s responsible for sending messages that tell us what we can see. When pressure on the optic nerve causes damage, it prevents these messages from being transmitted successfully, affecting the quality of our vision. In most instances, glaucoma develops very slowly, but occasionally it can come on much faster and requires immediate attention to prevent vision loss.
In many instances, it’s not known exactly why glaucoma develops. However, studies show that there can be a number of different contributing factors including:
Your age, since glaucoma becomes more common as you get older
Your ethnicity, as people of African, Caribbean, or Asian origin at higher risk of suffering from glaucoma
Whether you have immediate blood relatives who have suffered from glaucoma
Being nearsighted or farsighted
Taking certain medications
Suffering from an underlying medical problem, such as uveitis
Glaucoma causes a variety of different symptoms, and in most cases, these will develop extremely slowly, making them difficult to notice. Sadly this could mean that some damage is done to your vision before your condition is detected – unless it’s picked up at your regular annual eye exams.
In slow-developing glaucoma, the key symptoms of the condition include:
Loss of peripheral vision
Rainbow-colored circles around lights
If you are one of the small percentages of patients to develop acute glaucoma, these symptoms will also be accompanied by:
Intense eye pain
If you think that you may be suffering from glaucoma, it’s advisable to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor as soon as possible so that you can obtain a diagnosis and begin treatment to get your condition under control.
There are many different tests and assessments that can be used to confirm a diagnosis of glaucoma. These include:
A test to measure the amount of pressure within your eye called a tonometry test. Despite sounding painful, eye drops are used to numb the eye and make sure you aren’t in any discomfort
A dilated eye exam. This is where eye drops are used to dilate the pupils so your eye doctor can use a special light to look at the shape and color of your optic nerve and assess for any damage
A visual field test that determines if the edges of your vision have been compromised as a result of glaucoma
A test that measures the thickness of your cornea, which is something that can affect the amount of pressure inside your eyes
The tests that are carried out will determine not only if you have glaucoma, but also the type that is affecting you.
Regrettably, any vision that is lost due to glaucoma is permanent and can’t be restored. This is one of the reasons why prompt diagnosis and treatment is so important. However, there are treatments that can get your eye pressure under control and prevent any further sight loss. These include:
Eyedrops. Usually the first line of treatment for glaucoma, eyedrops work by lowering the level of pressure inside the eye. It’s important to take them exactly as directed
Oral medications. If you have acute, fast-progressing glaucoma, oral medications will probably be the first treatment recommended to you. Like eyedrops, they work by lowering the pressure inside your eyes, but they do this much more quickly
Laser treatment. Also recommended for people with acute glaucoma or those for whom other treatments haven’t been successful, laser treatment focuses on opening up drainage channels so that fluid can flow out of the eyes more easily. This reduces the pressure inside your eyes
Trabeculectomy. The final resort for patients with severe glaucoma, a trabeculectomy is a surgical procedure to remove blockages within the eye’s natural drainage system so that the pressure can reduce
For more information about diagnosing and treating glaucoma, please get in touch with our eye care specialists by calling (206) 502-2800.