The second leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
More than three million Americans have glaucoma, but only half are actually aware that this “silent thief” is slowly and without warning stealing away their vision, sometimes without symptoms.
What is glaucoma?
The eye has about one million tiny nerve fibers that carry visual information from the back of the eye to the brain. Glaucoma destroys these nerve fibers. It was once thought that the destruction of these fibers was due to high pressure within the eye, but we now know that even patients with normal eye pressure can have glaucoma and experience loss of this important nerve function.
Are there different types of glaucoma?
The two most frequently occurring types are primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.
With primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, the eye’s drainage canals are open, but they have become less efficient in draining fluid. Fluid build-up causes pressure within the eye to increase and eventually damage the optic nerve. In some patients, the optic nerve is at risk of damage because it has become sensitive to even normal pressure. Primary open angle glaucoma generally does not cause symptoms and leads to gradual vision loss.
In angle-closure glaucoma, the iris (the part of the eye that creates eye color) blocks the entrance to the drainage canal, sometimes causing the pressure within the eye to build up suddenly. Symptoms of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack include severe eye pain, red eye, blurred vision, headache, nausea, and vomiting. This is a true emergency that can lead to blindness if not treated promptly. More commonly, however, the iris blocks the entrance to the drainage canal more slowly and causes chronic angle-closure glaucoma. Cataract formation, too, can sometimes lead to angle-closure.
A thorough eye exam can detect narrow angles that are at risk of closure. Laser treatment to the iris can usually prevent angle-closure glaucoma.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma often goes unnoticed in its early stages because it usually does not cause pain or immediate changes in vision. If you have glaucoma, you probably won’t notice any warning signs or symptoms until your vision has suffered irreversible damage.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Because early detection is so important to limiting the vision loss associated with glaucoma, regular eye examinations are recommended. Elevated pressure within the eye and other indicators of glaucoma, such as optic nerve damage, can be detected only by a thorough examination. At Mattax Neu Prater Eye Center, we offer advanced state-of-the-art computerized evaluation techniques to detect early signs of optic nerve damage and peripheral vision loss associated with glaucoma.
Am I at risk for glaucoma?
Glaucoma typically affects people over the age of 40, but it can occur at any age. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but some groups are at higher risk than others. People age 65 or older, family members of those already diagnosed with glaucoma, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, diabetics, and those who are nearsighted or who have suffered severe injury to the eye are all at elevated risk. Cataract formation is another risk factor. Again, early detection is the key to slowing or halting the progression of this disease. If you have any of these risk factors, a thorough eye examination to evaluate for glaucoma is recommended.
How is glaucoma treated?
Although there currently is no cure for glaucoma, there are several effective treatment options to slow or halt progression of this disease.
- Medication, usually in the form of eye drops, can help to relieve pressure within the eye.
- Recent advances in laser surgery make it possible to improve the underlying condition that contributes to elevation of pressure within the eye. Open-angle glaucoma can be treated with ALT (ArgonLaser Trabeculoplasty), and a peripheral iridotomy procedure can be performed to treat closed-angle glaucoma.
- Most of the time, the efficiency of the drainage canals can be improved by treatment with medicated eye drops and/or laser therapy. However, if those treatments are not effective, the most common surgical option, trabeculectomy, can be performed to alter the eye’s drainage system.
Dr. Kenneth Neu can explain treatment options in more detail.
Can I prevent glaucoma?
No, but regular eye exams can make it possible to prevent much of the vision loss caused by glaucoma. Dr. Kenneth Neu is among the area’s most experienced glaucoma specialists. At Mattax Neu Prater Eye Center, we are dedicated to providing the most advanced techniques and equipment to help preserve the vision you need to live life on your terms.