Glaucoma is a condition affecting the eyes that tends to develop with age. Though there are some factors including genetics that can increase your chances of developing it at an earlier age. Left untreated and untreated glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, leading to a loss of peripheral vision and potentially lead to cause blindness.
If it’s allowed to progress glaucoma starts to gradually damage the optic nerve, which is primarily responsible for transmitting the visual images your eyes interpret to your brain. It’s also not the sort of thing that you can self-diagnose or self-treat. Many people fail to notice the early signs of glaucoma until they experience moderate to significant peripheral vision loss. Unfortunately, once it is lost, there is currently no way to restore the lost peripheral vision.
Thankfully, a comprehensive eye exam will catch glaucoma before the individuals experience a loss of vision and a decreased quality of life. Optometrist and ophthalmologists are trained in the necessary techniques to detect the earliest signs of glaucoma to start the process of preventing peripheral vision loss.
What Causes Glaucoma?
There are a few different things that can contribute to glaucoma. The most common is called “Ocular Hypertension” which is essentially an abnormally high amount of pressure inside the eye itself. Though an individual can develop glaucoma even when there are no overt signs of intraocular pressure. The pressure gradually starts to damage the optic nerve itself, which causes a progressive decrease in peripheral visual range.
This buildup of pressure is often attributed to drainage issues in the aqueous humor in the ciliary body between the cornea and the lens of the eye. This can even gradually distort the natural shape of the eye. The nourishing aqueous humor is meant to drain naturally through a trabecular mesh channel in the anterior of the eye where the iris and cornea meet.
A blockage in this trabecular mesh can cause aqueous fluid to buildup, or slow the rate at which it drains, which will start to increase intraocular pressure.
What Are The Symptoms Of Glaucoma?
Early on the increased pressure inside the eye and peripheral vision loss aren’t noticeable. The progressive decrease in the field of vision is so slow as to be nearly imperceptible. Though there are some severe or acute cases where the symptoms of glaucoma come on suddenly. When this occurs the individual often experiences things like:
- Blurry Vision
- Noticeable Halos Around Lights
- Gradually Worsening Eye Pain
- Nausea And Vomiting
What Are The Different Types Of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma can be classified into two distinct types based on symptoms and underlying factors.
Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
Is the more common form. It’s caused by issues with the drainage angle of the trabecular mesh that impedes the eye’s ability to naturally drain the aqueous fluid.
Is less-common and is related to a narrowing of the trabecular mesh channel, which further reduces the drainage rate of the aqueous humor leading to increased intraocular pressure. It’s also worth noting that Angle-Closure Glaucoma has both acute and chronic forms
Rare Types Of Glaucoma
While Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma and Angle-Closure Glaucoma are the two more common forms of this dangerous eye condition, there are a few rare forms.
Without any noticeable increase in the intraocular pressure. Many of these cases also occur in conjunction with low blood pressure in the patient.
Is often a genetic condition that develops in children born with some type of defect in the drainage of one or both eyes. Symptoms often include things like cloudiness in the cornea, watery eyes and an unusual sensitivity to light.
Is associated with complications resulting from other medical conditions. It’s often caused by things like diabetes, and high blood pressure or the long-term side effects of a specific medication. Though there are other eye conditions like cataracts uveitis or eye trauma that can also be a contributing factor.
How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed?
A comprehensive routine eye exam includes a tonometry procedure that is designed to measure the intraocular pressure of each eye with a special small instrument. It sometimes calls for applying special eye drops to reduce sensitivity in the cornea.
There is also a diagnostic procedure called Non-Contact Tonometry or NCT where a mild puff of air is used to temporarily flatten the center of the cornea to accurately measure eye pressure. With this diagnostic technique, there is no need to use desensitizing eye drops.
A healthy human eye with normal intraocular pressure typically measures around 21 millimeters of mercury. If one or both eyes measure over 21 mmHg.
There are other diagnostics that your optician or optometrist might recommend to test for glaucoma. This might include taking sophisticated images to develop baseline measurements to asses the internal structures of the eye and the state of the optic nerve. This diagnostic approach often calls for a series of eye exams.
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
The severity of your glaucoma symptoms and the underlying cause will influence the treatment plan your physician recommends. This might include things like:
- Routinely Using Medicated Eye Drops
- Laser Treatments
- More Invasive Eye Surgery
When glaucoma is caught early, medicated eye drops may be all that’s needed to reduce or completely arrest the loss of peripheral vision and further damage to the optic nerve. These prescription eye drop will need to be used as directed. They are specially formulated to help maintain proper drainage of the trabecular mesh channels to keep intraocular eye pressure in the normal range. In some cases, your physician might also include a prescription for an oral medication that will need to be taken in conjunction with routine use of the eye drops.
Your Routine Eye Exam Is The First Line Of Defense Against Glaucoma
Of course, early detection of glaucoma reduces the need for invasive treatment while allowing you to retain more of your peripheral vision, as well as improve treatment success rates. Having a routine eye exam performed each year takes little time and is typically covered under most insurance plans.