One of the biggest threats to healthy eyes and clear vision is a disease called glaucoma. Commonly known as “the silent thief of sight,” glaucoma often develops without any warning signs until it is too late to preserve vision. This is one reason why the ophthalmologists and optometrists at The Eye Health Centre encourage you to undergo regular eye exams to look for signs of glaucoma and other diseases. When glaucoma is caught early, we can manage it through a variety of advanced solutions.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases affecting the optic nerve, which communicates information from the eye to the brain. Many cases of glaucoma are caused by uncontrolled pressure inside the eye, referred to as intraocular pressure.
To understand intraocular pressure, consider that a healthy eye constantly produces fluid to keep itself nourished, and has a built-in drainage system for fluid to exit the eye. If the eye produces too much fluid too quickly, or the drainage system malfunctions, fluid builds up and causes an increase in pressure inside the eye. Eventually, the pressure can damage the optic nerve and lead to permanent, irreversible vision loss.
Types of Glaucoma
In the most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, the drainage system or angle remains open but narrows (similar to a clogged drain). This slows the natural drainage of fluid from the eye. With open-angle glaucoma, intraocular pressure rises slowly, and any warning signs, like blind spots in peripheral vision, halos around lights and increased sensitivity to light, are usually very subtle. It is often difficult to detect open-angle glaucoma without a dilated eye exam.
In the less-common angle-closure glaucoma, the eye’s drainage angle closes suddenly, causing an immediate spike in intraocular pressure. This produces noticeable, intense symptoms such as severe headaches, blurred vision, eye pain and nausea or vomiting. Angle-closure glaucoma is considered a medical emergency and can cause permanent blindness if not treated immediately.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, there is no permanent cure. But treatment options such as medication, laser or traditional surgery or minimally invasive surgery can help slow the disease’s progression and prevent you from losing precious vision.
The most common treatment option for glaucoma is the regular use of medicated eye drops. Some drops reduce the amount of fluid your eye produces, and others improve the way fluid drains from your eye. Our eye doctors can recommend the best drop or combination of drops for your specific circumstances.
If eye drops fail to keep your intraocular pressure under control, or the drops cause uncomfortable side effects, our doctors may recommend surgery. Using a laser or traditional surgical instruments, we can create new pathways for fluid to drain from your eyes, thereby lowering intraocular pressure.
Our team also offers a group of minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries that use small incisions and tiny instruments to improve the way fluid exits your eye and regulate your intraocular pressure.
For example, we can insert a tiny stent device, measuring approximately 1 mm in length (about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen), into your eye to ensure a constant flow of fluid out of the eye. This stent and other similar devices cannot be seen or felt. The recovery from these procedures is quick compared to other types of surgery. In many cases, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery can reduce or eliminate the use of medicated eye drops.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Open-angle glaucoma usually does not significantly impair vision or cause other noticeable symptoms in the early stages. As it gets worse, it can cause the loss of peripheral (side) vision.
The symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma usually occur suddenly and can include severe eye pain, visible halos around lights, nausea, vomiting and blurry vision. If you experience any of the symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma, seek immediate medical attention.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Glaucoma is diagnosed through a comprehensive dilated eye exam and a review of your medical history. Our doctors measure your intraocular pressure and perform a visual field test to check for any areas of vision loss. Our doctors will also examine your optic nerve for any signs of damage.
What are the risk factors for glaucoma?
Glaucoma risk factors include the following:
- Being over the age of 60
- Being black, Asian or Hispanic
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure
- Having a history of a traumatic eye injury
Can I stop glaucoma from progressing?
Appropriate medical or surgical intervention can prevent or slow the progression of glaucoma.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, our doctors may recommend lowering your intraocular pressure through the use of special medications or eye drops, laser treatment, traditional surgery or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS). Sometimes two or more of these treatment options are combined.
Regular eye exams are crucial to monitor the progression of the disease.
Do glaucoma eye drops cause side effects?
Like any medication, some glaucoma eye drops are associated with mild side effects. These include stinging or red eyes, blurry vision, headaches and dry mouth. Usually these side effects are only temporary. If you experience persistent side effects, please let our doctors know.
Can I have glaucoma if my eye pressure levels are normal?
Yes, it is possible to have glaucoma with eye pressure levels that are average or even below average. These cases are known as “normal tension glaucoma.”
It is also possible to have higher than average eye pressure levels and not get glaucoma. If that is the case, you should be regularly monitored by our eye doctors to watch for any signs of damage to your optic nerve.
Is there a cure for glaucoma?
There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but the condition can be managed with the help of the right medical team. The earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better. Vision that has already been lost to glaucoma unfortunately cannot be restored.
For more information about the diagnosis or treatment of glaucoma, please contact The Eye Health Centre. We have four offices conveniently located in Brisbane, Booval, Aspley and Wynnum.