You noticed that you can’t see as well as you used to, so you went in to your eye doctor. You thought they were going give you a stronger prescription for glasses or contacts, but instead they diagnosed you with glaucoma.
The diagnosis worries you, mostly because you don’t know much about glaucoma. You want to know how it is caused, how it differs from age-related vision loss, and how it is treated. Read through this blog to learn the answers to your questions about this eye disease.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma damages your optic nerve, interrupting the signals between your eyes and brain. The main symptom is a loss of peripheral vision, which slowly expands until you lose vision entirely. Other symptoms include eye pain, redness, and seeing halos when you look at lights.
The disease is caused by a drainage problem in the eye. Intraocular fluid, a clear fluid that nourishes your eyes, passes the anterior (front) chamber and drains through canals in the opening between your cornea and iris into the posterior (back) chamber. When you have glaucoma, this process is inhibited, preventing a healthy flow. There are two different types of glaucoma:
- Wide- or open-angle glaucoma. The intraocular fluid can’t drain quickly enough through the permeable barrier between the cornea and iris, generally because of a clog. The pressure within the eye slowly increases, damaging the nerve. Since the pressure builds slowly, you may not feel any pain until the damage has significantly progressed.
- Angle–closure or acute glaucoma. This form comes on much more quickly. The angle of the opening between cornea and iris has grown too narrow, severely restricting the fluid flow. Pressure then increases rapidly, causing sudden pain.
The type of glaucoma you have matters because certain treatments work better for one or the other. While glaucoma can’t be cured and lost vision can’t be restored, there are many treatment options available to halt the progression of the disease and ensure you retain as much of your vision as possible.
While only your ophthalmologist can determine what treatment will work best for your particular situation, it’s a good idea to learn what options exist. The options commonly used for treating glaucoma range from self-administered eye drops to laser surgery.
- Eye Drops
There are many different types of eye drops available, depending on your specific needs. Some prescription drops help the fluid drain more easily, some work by decreasing the amount of fluid produced, and some do a combination of both.
If you and your ophthalmologist decide eye drops are right for you, remember to apply the drops exactly as the doctor prescribes. The drops are most effective if you close your eyes for a few minutes after administering the medicine and press gently on the inner corner of the eyelid. This ensures as much of the drug as possible absorbs directly into your eye.
- Oral Medications
If the eye drops prove ineffective or if you have an allergic reaction, your ophthalmologist may suggest taking pills instead. The pills have the same effect on the eye as the drops-increased flow or decreased production of intraocular fluid-but may have more side effects. Make sure you let your ophthalmologist know if you are taking any other medications.
- Laser Surgery
There are several different laser surgery options your doctor may suggest. They each target a different area of the eye:
- Trabeculoplasty. The ophthalmologist applies the laser to the drainage meshwork between the cornea and iris. The laser stretches out the meshwork, improving the fluid flow rate. This method is particularly helpful for open-angle glaucoma, where the meshwork is the issue.
- Iridotomy. The laser creates a small hole directly on the edge of the iris, allowing the fluid to pass out of the front chamber of the eye. Your ophthalmologist will likely recommend this procedure if you have angle-closure glaucoma, as your iris may be blocking the drainage channels.
- Cyclophotocoagulation: The laser affects the cells that produce the intraocular fluid, decreasing the amount of fluid in your eye.
After receiving laser surgery, you will likely need to continue taking medication in order to ensure your eyes are healthy, but laser treatments are more effective than medicine alone.
- Traditional Surgery
If you have open-angle glaucoma, your ophthalmologist may recommend manually improving the flow. With traditional surgery, your ophthalmologist will either insert a small stent into the opening between the iris and cornea, creating a new drainage channel, or cut a small hole in the drainage area.
This operation has a high success rate for lowing eye pressure and can safely be performed multiple times if the new channel shrinks.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, it’s important to start treatment right away. Immediate treatment can halt the progression of glaucoma, but waiting to treat the disease can cause further irreparable damage to your eye. With modern medicine, there are many effective ways to improve your eye health.
For more information about treating glaucoma, get in touch with Country Hills Eye Center’s trained surgical staff by calling (801) 399-1149.