GLAUCOMA

Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that lead to progressive damage of the optic nerve, the nerve that connects your eye to your brain, and can result in the loss of nerve tissue, resulting in vision loss and even blindness.

The exact causes of glaucoma are unknown, but the disease is usually associated with an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the United States.

It can occur at any age, but more common in older adults. Many forms of glaucoma have no warnings signs, the effect being so gradual that you may not notice a change in your vision until the condition is at an advanced stage.

TYPES OF GLAUCOMA

This is the most common form, and because its progression is slow and painless, you can lose a significant portion of your vision before you notice problems. The prevailing theory of its cause is that your eyes’ drainage system becomes inefficient over time, leading to an increased amount of fluid, which then builds up pressure inside your eye.

This form of glaucoma may appear gradually, but can also appear quite suddenly. The drainage angle of your eye is formed where the cornea and the iris meet. As you age, the lens of your eye becomes larger, narrowing the drainage angle. If the angle becomes too narrow, fluid cannot drain properly, and eye pressure increases.

Closed-angle glaucoma is a medical emergency that can cause vision loss within a day of its onset, and should be treated immediately.

This type can result from an injury, or another eye disease. It may be caused by a variety of medical conditions, medications, physical injuries and eye abnormalities..

In this form of glaucoma, even though eye pressure remains within the low/normal range, the optic nerve still suffers damage. One theory for its cause is reduced blood supply to the optic nerve due to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which is also often age-related.

RISK FACTORS FOR GLAUCOMA

  • Being over age 60
  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Being black, Asian or Hispanic
  • Corneas that are thin in the center
  • High intraocular (internal) eye pressure
  • Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
  • Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
  • Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sickle-cell anemia
  • Being over age 60
  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Being black, Asian or Hispanic
  • Corneas that are thin in the center
  • High intraocular (internal) eye pressure
  • Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
  • Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
  • Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sickle-cell anemia

PREVENTING GLAUCOMA

There is currently no know way to prevent glaucoma, however, as with other aspects of your eyes and sight, there are steps you can take to protect your eyes from potential inducers of glaucoma, and to detect it in its early stages, which is important for slowing its progress, and preventing additional vision loss.

  • Get regular dilated eye examinations, which can help detect glaucoma in its early stages, before significant damage occurs.
  • Know your family’s eye health history, because glaucoma tends to run in families.
  • Exercise regularly, which may help prevent glaucoma by reducing eye pressure.
  • Take eye drops your doctor may prescribe, and take them regularly, even if you have no symptoms, to reduce the risk that high eye pressure will progress to glaucoma.
  • Wear eye protection, when using power tools or playing sports, to avoid serious eye injuries that can lead to glaucoma.

GLAUCOMA SYMPTOMS

In all cases, symptoms of glaucoma may include patchy blind spots in your peripheral (side) vision, often in both eyes, eventually leading to tunnel vision in advanced stages.

In cases of acute-angle glaucoma, which should be treated immediately, symptoms may also include one or more of the following:

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Halos around lights
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye redness
  • Eye pain
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Halos around lights
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye redness
  • Eye pain

GLAUCOMA DIAGNOSIS

Glaucoma cannot be detected by the naked eye – it can only be diagnosed during
a comprehensive dilated eye exam by an eye doctor.

Because glaucoma is a progressive disease, you should have an eye exam annually, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors for glaucoma. Your medical history is an important part of this exam, including any noting of any symptoms you may be experiencing, and informing your optometrist if there are general health problems or a family history that may be relevant.

During your eye exam, your doctor will perform:

  • Visual acuity measurements to determine if your vision is being affected.
  • Tonometry to measure the pressure inside the eye, which can indicate increased risk factors for glaucoma.
  • Pachymetry to measure corneal thickness – people with thinner corneas are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Visual field testing, also called perimetry, to check if your field of vision has been affected by glaucoma.
  • Evaluation of your retinas, which may include photographs or scans of your optic nerves, to monitor any changes over time.
  • Supplemental testing may also be performed, which can include gonioscopy, a procedure that offers a view of your angle anatomy, which is where eye fluid drainage occurs. Devices can also be used to measure nerve fiber thickness and to look for tissue loss on specific areas of your nerve fiber layer.

TREATMENT FOR GLAUCOMA

Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, nor can vision already lost to glaucoma be restored. If diagnosed and treated early, glaucoma can usually be controlled, but you will need to continue treatment for the rest of your life.

The earlier you are diagnosed and begin treatment, the less your vision is likely to suffer the ill effects of glaucoma.

Treatment for glaucoma may include one or more of any number of medications that are available, typically designed to reduce elevated pressure in your eye. More than one medication may be prescribed, and the type may be changed if pressure is not reducing enough or you are experiencing side effects.

In some cases, especially in advanced stages of the disease, and for the acute-angle form, surgery may be indicated. Your optometrist will be able to determine this during your exam, and recommend a specialist for one of several procedures available to reduce the suffering and further vision loss glaucoma can cause.

The information on this website is offered as part of a public information campaign supported by NHOA member donations, grants, and funding from vision-related corporations. It is extended thanks to broadcasters across the Granite State, in order that you, your family members, and every resident of New Hampshire gets as close to healthy 20/20 vision as possible in 2020, and beyond.