Have you or a loved one recently found out that you have glaucoma? If you have, you may have questions or concerns about your diagnosis.
What does it mean to have glaucoma? What can you expect as you start treatment for the condition?
With any diagnosis, educating yourself is critical to proper care. Keep reading to learn more about glaucoma and how it affects your eyesight.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma describes a group of eye disorders that affect the optic nerve, the part of the eye that serves as the messenger between your eyes and brain. Glaucoma is generally characterized by a buildup of pressure inside of the eye, referred to as intraocular pressure.
Over time, heightened intraocular pressure causes damage to the optic nerve. When this happens, the damage is permanent.
Glaucoma rarely causes symptoms until vision loss has occurred, earning the disease the title “the silent thief of sight”.
The best way to combat glaucoma is through early diagnosis. When diagnosed early, glaucoma is almost always managed successfully. Common risk factors for glaucoma include family history, diabetes, or taking certain medications. Having regular eye exams with your eye doctor is extremely important.
At Levin Luminais Chronister Eye Associates and Eye Doctors of Chester County, we have eye doctors on staff who are experienced in recognizing the symptoms of glaucoma, as well as specialists dedicated to the treatment of the disease.
Can you treat glaucoma?
Yes, and if you receive a glaucoma diagnosis, treatment is a must! Without proper glaucoma treatment, vision loss will occur.
There are several methods for treating glaucoma. The best course of treatment for each patient is determined by several factors:
1. What kind of glaucoma do you have?
There are five different types of glaucoma. The most common is open-angle glaucoma, affecting over 95% of glaucoma patients. Those with open-angle glaucoma do not typically experience pain or symptoms (sometimes for years) until vision loss occurs.
The second most common kind of glaucoma is angle-closure glaucoma. Angle-closure glaucoma usually occurs because of a narrow-angle between the cornea and the iris that block drainage canals and cause a sudden rise in intraocular pressure.
Characterized by the sudden onset of symptoms, angle-closure glaucoma can sometimes lead to vision loss within a day or less, although chronic angle-closure glaucoma occurs over time.
Unlike open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma, secondary glaucoma occurs as a result of other medical conditions. These can include hypertension, diabetes, cataracts, or trauma.
The other two kinds of glaucoma are less common. These are congenital glaucoma and low- tension or normal-tension glaucoma. Congenital glaucoma means that you were born with the condition. Low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma can occur in patients without high intraocular pressure.
2. How severe is the progression of your glaucoma?
The severity and progression of your glaucoma often dictate your treatment options. For most glaucoma patients, the first line of treatment is either a selective (“cold”) laser known as SLT or the use of prescription eye drops.
These are eye drops designed to help your eyes produce less fluid, reducing eye pressure and preventing damage to the optic nerve. Because each case of glaucoma is unique, the prescription of medication is highly individualized and based on a variety of considerations.
If eye drops are not lowering intraocular pressure, there are other treatment options. In most cases, the next step is to consider surgical procedures.
What are the most common surgical procedures for glaucoma?
If your eye specialist recommends surgery for the treatment of glaucoma, laser procedures are effective and minimally invasive. Procedures offered for the treatment of glaucoma by Levin Luminais Chronister Eye Associates and Eye Doctors of Chester County include:
● Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) – This treatment is for patients with primary open angle glaucoma (POAG). The trabecular passages are opened to increase fluid drainage with the use of a cold laser. SLT is highly effective, with results lasting for several years. The procedure may also be repeated. Often this is used as a first treatment for glaucoma. This is done in the office.
● Laser Peripheral Iridotomy (LPI) – For patients with narrow-angle glaucoma. A small hole is made in the iris to increase the angle between the iris and cornea. This encourages fluid drainage and helps to lower high intraocular pressure. This is usually done in the office.
● Filtering Microsurgery (Trabeculectomy) – Unlike SLT or laser peripheral iridotomy, a trabeculectomy does not involve the use of a laser. During a trabeculectomy, a piece of the trabecular meshwork is removed from the eye to create a drainage passage. This helps to lower intraocular pressure levels. A trabeculectomy is often recommended if laser treatments have not been effective.
● Tube Shunt Surgery – May be recommended for patients with neovascular glaucoma, failed trabeculectomy, or susceptibility to developing scar tissue. A thin, flexible tube (a shunt) with a silicone pouch is inserted in the eye to facilitate drainage.
● YAG Laser Cyclophotocoagulation (YAG CP) – For patients with severe glaucoma damage who have not been helped with other surgeries. The ciliary body that produces intraocular fluid is destroyed.
What is living with glaucoma like?
Glaucoma, like many other chronic conditions, can be manageable. It is important to remember to carefully follow all instructions from your eye care specialist, and to attend all scheduled eye exams. When you are first diagnosed, you will have check-ins regularly (weekly or monthly) to monitor your eye pressure until it stabilizes.
Once eye pressure has reached stable levels, glaucoma patients often need to see their eye doctor several times a year for checkups.
If you find yourself on prescription eye drops that you need to take several times a day, take them as directed - It's crucial that your eye pressure levels stay as stable as possible. If intraocular pressure gets too high, your vision may be endangered.
If you notice that your vision has suddenly gotten worse or you can't see as well, tell your eye doctor as soon as possible.
People with glaucoma are still able to develop cataracts. If your vision seems cloudy, blurry, or foggy, these are classic signs that you may be developing cataracts. It is still possible to have cataract surgery if you have glaucoma.
Have more questions about glaucoma and what to expect from this eye condition? Schedule an appointment at Levin Luminais Chronister Eye Associates in Thorndale, PA and Berwyn, PA today! We'll answer all your questions and come up with a custom treatment plan for your eye care needs.