Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially for older adults. But loss of sight from glaucoma is preventable if you receive treatment early enough.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which carries the images we see to the brain. Many people know that glaucoma has something to do with pressure inside the eye. The higher the pressure inside the eye, the greater the chance of damage to the optic nerve.
Glaucoma can damage nerve fibers, causing blind spots to develop. Often people don’t notice these blind areas until much optic nerve damage has already occurred. Blindness results if the entire nerve is destroyed. Early detection and treatment by your ophthalmologist are the keys to preventing optic nerve damage and blindness from glaucoma.
High pressure alone does not mean that you have glaucoma. Your ophthalmologist puts together many factors to determine your risk for developing the disease.
Your ophthalmologist will weigh all of these factors before deciding whether you need treatment for glaucoma, or whether you should be monitored closely as a glaucoma suspect. This means your risk of developing glaucoma is higher than normal, and you need to have regular examinations to detect the early signs of damage to the optic nerve.
Regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist are the best way to detect glaucoma. An ophthalmologist is a medical eye doctor. Your ophthalmologist can detect and treat glaucoma.
During a complete and painless examination, your ophthalmologist will:
Some of these tests may not be necessary for every person. You may need to repeat these tests on a regular basis, to determine if glaucoma damage is increasing over time.
As a rule, damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed. Eye drops, pills, laser, and surgical operations are used to prevent or slow further damage from occurring. With any type of glaucoma, periodic examinations are very important to prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma can worsen without your being aware of it, your treatment may need to be changed over time.
Glaucoma is usually controlled with eye drops taken several times a day, sometimes in combination with pills. These medications decrease eye pressure, either by slowing the production of aqueous fluid within the eye or by improving the flow leaving the drainage angle. For these medications to work, you must take them regularly and continuously. It is also important to tell all of your doctors about the eye medications you are using.
Laser surgery treatments may be effective for different types of glaucoma. The laser is usually used in one of two ways. In open-angle glaucoma, the drain itself is treated. The laser is used to enlarge the drain (trabeculoplasty) to help control eye pressure. In angle-closure glaucoma, the laser creates a hole in the iris (iridotomy) to improve the flow of aqueous fluid to the drain.
When surgery is needed to control glaucoma, your ophthalmologist uses miniature instruments to create a new drainage channel for the aqueous fluid to leave the eye. The new channel helps to lower the pressure. Though serious complications of modern glaucoma surgery are rare, they can occur, as with any surgery. Surgery is recommended only if your ophthalmologist feels that it is safer to operate than to allow optic nerve damage to continue.