Baltimore Washington Eye Center, Maryland

Friday, September 23, 2011

What is Glaucoma and how can it be treated?

Glaucoma refers to eye disorders where high pressure inside the eye causes damage to the optic nerve and subsequent vision loss.  If glaucoma is untreated, it can lead to permanent loss of you peripheral (side) or central vision.  In fact, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, and approximately 2.5 million people in the United States are affected. An estimated 50% of those affected do not know they have glaucoma. People at highest risk are those with a family history of glaucoma, diabetics, those older than 60 years of age, African-Americans, and the extremely farsighted.

Glaucoma Symptoms
Glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight," because it can cause vision loss slowly without obvious detection.  However, with some forms of glaucoma, such as acute angle closure, symptoms can develop rapidly and include blurred vision, halos around lights, eye pain, nausea and vomiting.  If you develop these symptoms, you should go to an emergency room or visit an ophthalmologist immediately to prevent permanent loss of vision.

Diagnosis, Screening and Tests for Glaucoma
There are several screening tests that help establish the diagnosis of glaucoma.  The first step is to check the eye pressure with a small tonometer probe.  A drop of numbing solution is placed on the eye and the pressure is measured.  There is no pain and the test lasts only seconds.  There is no unexpected puff of air anymore.  The eyes are also dilated with eye drops so that the optic nerves can be assessed for damage.  A picture of the eyes may also be performed to check the health of the optic nerves.

Treatment of Glaucoma
If your doctor determines that you have glaucoma, there are several treatment options.  Every option involves lowering the eye pressure to prevent vision loss.  The most common treatment is the use of eye drops to lower eye pressure.  There are many different drops that work in various ways to reduce pressure.  Most glaucoma patients are treated adequately with drops; if drops are ineffective, and in a few other circumstances, medical lasers can be used to reduce the eye pressure in an office setting.  If the eye pressure remains high despite these treatments, incisional surgery may be considered.  The most common type of glaucoma surgery, trabeculectomy, creates a new drain for the eye to lower pressure.  Filtering tubes can also be implanted to help control pressure.

Final Thoughts
Glaucoma is a common and treatable condition.  Screening tests can detect glaucoma early enough to prevent vision loss.  If you have symptoms of glaucoma or anyone in your family has glaucoma, a visit to one of our ophthalmologists for a screening is a good place to start.