One of the reasons we wanted to write about the symptoms and treatments of Glaucoma is because approximately 3 million Americans suffer from Glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a serious eye disease that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Thankfully there are ways of managing it. Prognosis is typically better if it is caught early enough.
In this blog post, we will discuss the symptoms and treatment of glaucoma in detail. We hope this information helps you take care of your eyes and maintain your vision for years to come!
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the name of a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting information from the eye to the brain. When this nerve is damaged it can cause vision loss ranging from partial impairment to complete blindness.
Glaucoma is often referred to as “the silent thief of sight” because it typically has no early warning signs or symptoms. That is why it is important to get regular eye exams to detect glaucoma early and treat it before vision loss occurs.
Glaucoma is very complex so we’ll explain it in a way that’s easier to understand. Simply think of the optic nerve as a doughnut with a hole. In glaucoma, high pressure inside the eye due to a malfunctioning of the drainage system causes damage to the doughnut and this causes the hole to get bigger. As you lose parts of the doughnut you lose parts of your peripheral vision. If you lose the entire doughnut you lose your entire vision. Normal-pressure inside the eye ranges from 10-21. Anything above 21 is considered high.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. It develops slowly and painlessly, and many people do not realize they have it until vision loss has already occurred.
Angle-closure glaucoma is less common but more serious. It occurs when the eye’s drainage system becomes blocked, causing a sudden increase in pressure inside the eye. This can lead to severe pain, redness, and nausea. If not treated immediately, angle-closure glaucoma can cause permanent vision loss.
There is another type called normal-tension glaucoma, where you have normal eye pressures but still develop glaucoma. For the sake of simplicity, we will ignore this one in particular.
What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
There are no early warning signs or symptoms for open-angle glaucoma. Let’s say the glaucoma is affecting only one eye. Most people aren’t going to realize that their far peripheral vision is slowly being lost over time, especially if both eyes are open. It’s not until the visual field becomes significantly impacted that it can start causing functional issues (e.g. bumping into things, not seeing things on your side as quickly). At that point, however, a lot of damage has likely already been done. Open-angle glaucoma can affect both eyes too and it may still be years until someone realizes they have it, unless they get their eyes checked, in which case a skilled doctor can catch it.
Angle-closure glaucoma is different. The symptoms are acute and quite pronounced. This is because having very high pressures inside the eye is dangerous. We’re talking pressures of 40+ in most instances. The most common symptoms are:
- Severe eye pain
- Seeing halos around lights – when eye pressure is too high it causes the cornea to become cloudy, this makes it look like you’re seeing through a haze
- Nausea and vomiting
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see an eye doctor immediately.
Treatments of Glaucoma
If glaucoma is caught early, it can often be managed with eye drops or surgery. Lowering the pressure in the eye is how we slow down damage to the optic nerve. It’s important to understand something; glaucoma will eventually lead to blindness even with treatment if people lived forever. By lowering the pressure inside the eye to the appropriate level the goal of treatment is to enable the patient to outlive glaucoma and be able to live a normal life. This is why it’s critical that it’s caught early. The sooner we start slowing down the damage, the better the final outcome.
It is important to also discuss the preventative measures eye doctors take to combat glaucoma. If your eye doctor has ever used the words “glaucoma suspect” then it means that your optic nerves look suspicious. What does suspicious mean? Let’s go back to the doughnut example. If you have significantly different-sized doughnut holes between the eyes or if your doughnut holes are larger than normal then this will raise a red flag for your eye doctor. One thing to understand though is that these suspicious signs may also be completely normal and harmless. For some people, it may be just how they were born and this is their normal anatomical configuration, which is fine. For any eye doctor seeing you for the first time, however, we won’t know. We weren’t there to look at the back of your eyes when you were born so in a vacuum we become suspicious.
An eye doctor won’t just abruptly start treatment when all they have to go on is suspicion, especially if pressures are within the normal range. Glaucoma is a lifetime treatment so it’s not a diagnosis we make lightly. Your doctor may opt to bring you back to do some baseline testing. These include peripheral vision tests, optic nerve scans, and checking the drainage system in your eye. Ultimately a doctor needs to have evidence of early damage occurring – i.e. change over time – and the only way to accomplish this is to have a baseline to compare things to and then repeat the testing at appropriate intervals.
Now, this is somewhat generalized and there are exceptions. The clinical decision a doctor ultimately makes will be based on clinical evidence as well as experience and using knowledge from scientific research. Some cases are more clear-cut, while others require long-term testing and observation. Also, some people may have high pressures and never develop glaucoma. The diagnosis here is called ocular hypertension and may or may not require treatment.
As you can see, even with trying to simplify glaucoma, there is still a lot to be said about it. Proper eye care, which includes regular checkups, is the best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma.
We hope this information has been helpful! Taking care of your eyes is crucial for maintaining your vision and quality of life. If you’d like to learn more, consider booking an eye exam for yourself.