Glaucoma is commonly thought of as a disease that affects people in their later years. So many people over the age of 55 become more aware of issues with their eyes but are sometimes uncertain of what to look for before they visit a medical professional. In its initial stage, you may not notice any symptoms. Vision usually remains normal and there is no pain. Glaucoma can also develop in one eye and not the other.
As glaucoma progresses, the front of the eye called the anterior chamber allows fluid to flow to the nearby eye tissues and leaves the chamber at the angle of the cornea and iris out into a spongy mesh of tissue. As glaucoma progresses, the angle of the eye changes and allows a buildup of fluid in this chamber, creating pressure in the eye near the optic nerve leading to tunnel vision and sometimes complete blindness.
1. How is glaucoma detected?
A: Glaucoma is diagnosed through a series of test and exams that include the following:
- Visual acuity test – an eye chart reading at different distances
- Visual field test - this tests only peripheral vision
- Dilated eye exam – a magnified exam after drops are inserted in both eyes of the optic nerve and retina to observe any damage
- Tonometry – measurement of eye pressure in both eyes
- Pachymetry – measurement of the cornea thickness
2. Are there different types of glaucoma?
A: Besides congenital glaucoma which some children are born with, there are two types of glaucoma that adults can have:
- Low-tension glaucoma – This takes place when your eye pressure is normal but there is some form of damage to your optic nerve which is narrowing your vision.
- Angle-closure glaucoma – This is a fluid-drainage issue from the anterior chamber of the eye causing extreme pressure build-up. As this progresses, it can cause symptoms such as severe eye pain or headaches as well as nausea in extreme cases. You can also experience red eyes and blurry vision as it progresses from its initial stage.
3. How does eye pressure affect the optic nerve?
A: As the fluid continues to build up in the anterior chamber instead of flowing out into the spongy mesh as it should, the pressure increases around the iris and optic nerve components in the eye. Eventually, if the pressure is not relieved through medication or surgery, the optic nerve will be damaged and vision loss will probably occur.
4. Will I develop glaucoma if my eye pressure increases?
A: It is not necessarily the case that simply having a build-up of pressure in the eye will cause glaucoma. Everyone has a different level of tolerance for the pressure build-up as well as differing levels of normal pressure. So, if your optic nerve has a higher tolerance for a heavier pressure on the eye, then there will not be any damage to the area or a loss of vision. A dilated eye exam will determine this.
5. Who is more likely to develop glaucoma?
A: It has been shown that there are certain demographics of people that are at a greater risk of developing glaucoma that include the following groups:
- Those over the age of 55
- African-Americans over 40 years old
- Mexican-Americans over the age of 60
- Anyone who has a family history of glaucoma
6. Can glaucoma be cured?
A: Unfortunately, glaucoma cannot be cured. So, if it is left untreated, vision cannot be regained once it has been lost due to the disease.
7. How can glaucoma be treated?
A: Depending on the stage it is detected and the type of glaucoma that is diagnosed, there are several ways in which glaucoma is treatable:
- Medicine – These usually take the form of eyedrops and sometimes pills. This is the alternative that most people with glaucoma have when it is detected in its earlier stage. The eye drops and pills are meant to reduce eye pressure and help drain fluid properly.
- Laser trabeculoplasty – This is an outpatient treatment that is usually done in any of the stages of glaucoma to drain the fluid that has built up near the optic nerve. It is usually followed up with life-long medicinal treatment as well.
- Surgery – This is usually a last-resort treatment when drops, pills, and laser treatment have not brought about the results that the doctor is looking for. This is technically known as trabeculectomy and is done at a hospital in a conventional surgery theater.
These should give you some answers about what to look for if you feel you are showing signs of glaucoma and the best ways in which it can be treated, especially if it is diagnosed in its early stages.
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