Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States, and there are an estimated 6 million cases worldwide.
Glaucoma occurs when eye pressure increases and creates stress on the optic nerve. If the nerve is damaged, vision loss occurs. In most cases, glaucoma causes no pain and creates no other symptoms until vision loss becomes noticeable. Because there are no symptoms, regular eye exams are crucial to maintaining eye health.
Open-angle glaucoma (OAG) is the most common form in America. It has no initial symptoms and primarily affects people over the age of 50.
OAG occurs when pressure slowly builds until the eye is damaged. Symptoms only appear once the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral vision is lost or the cornea swells, though often the condition is painless. Without treatment, total blindness will occur.
Acute closed-angle glaucoma is the result of a sudden blockage in the flow of fluid between the iris and the lens. Symptoms include:
- Severe pain
- Blurred vision
- Seeing a rainbow halo around lights
Most glaucoma is diagnosed through a routine pressure check using tonometry, which is part of a comprehensive eye exam. Regular eye exams can help diagnose OAG early, and early diagnosis is imperative to prevent vision loss from the condition.
The purpose of glaucoma treatment is to reduce intraocular pressure.
Medicated eye drops are the most common form of treatment. While eye drops are effective for many people, the treatment routine can be complicated, so it is imperative to follow the instructions provided by your physician.
If your doctor determines surgery may help prevent vision loss, it may be the recommended treatment option.
- For open angle glaucoma, the doctor may perform a laser trabeculoplasty.
- For closed angle glaucoma, the doctor may perform a laser iridotomy.
Both procedures allow fluid to flow out of the eye more easily, thereby decreasing pressure.
Open-angle glaucoma is not preventable, but you can stop vision loss from the condition. Most people with open-angle glaucoma have no symptoms, so early diagnosis and careful management are imperative.
In order to maintain your eye health and stave off glaucoma, follow these rules:
- If you’re over 40, have an eye examat least once every two years.
- If you’re high-risk, meaning you have a family history of open-angle glaucoma, or if you’re over 65, have an eye exam every one to two years. Ask your eyecare practitioner which schedule will provide you with the most protection.