What Is It?
Glaucoma is a group of common eye conditions that can permanently destroy vision and is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Glaucoma destroys vision by putting pressure on the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the path which sends light signals to the brain where these signals become what we know as “sight.” Left unchecked to progress, the optic nerve is damaged by the high pressure in the eye. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in blindness. Typically, people with glaucoma do not know they have it and do not show symptoms. Patients often permanently lose their vision before diagnosing glaucoma. Therefore, regular eye examinations are important for early detection and treatment.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Glaucoma can affect patients of all ages, however, there are several factors that can increase the risk of developing glaucoma, including:
- Being over 60
- A family history of glaucoma
- Elevated intraocular pressure
- Poor vision or other eye disorders or injuries
- Certain medical conditions, like diabetes
- Taking certain medications for prolonged periods
Patients can suffer from primary or secondary glaucoma. Glaucoma is considered primary if the origin is unknown and secondary if it is a result of a medical condition. Certain conditions can contribute to secondary glaucoma including increased pressure within the eye, severe eye infection, an eye injury, blocked blood vessels, and inflammatory eye conditions.
Open Vs Narrow Angle Glaucoma
There are two major types of glaucoma including open-angle and narrow-angle glaucoma. In open-angle glaucoma, the access to the drainage structures of the eye is not blocked but fluid drains slowly from the trabecula or drainage channel. Typically, loss of vision in open-angle glaucoma is not evident to the patient until advanced stages of vision loss or it is detected during an eye examination. About 95 percent of glaucoma patients suffer from primary open-angle glaucoma.
In narrow-angle glaucoma, access to the drainage channel is blocked. As a result, fluid cannot drain from the eye. This condition is more common among people that have short or farsighted eyes and can cause a red, painful, eye with decreased vision. In some cases, the symptoms of angle closure are subtler and not noticed by the patient.
Glaucoma has been called the “sneak thief of sight” because, in the most typical form, there are no symptoms. In chronic glaucoma, there is no pain, no swelling, or no redness. If symptoms do occur, they vary based on the type of glaucoma and can appear in one or both eyes. Open-angle glaucoma symptoms include dim or blurred vision, gradual loss of peripheral vision, and tunnel vision. For patients with angle-closure glaucoma symptoms can include:
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red eyes
- Severe eye pain
- Sudden visual disturbance
In order to diagnose glaucoma, patients will need to undergo an eye examination. Dr. Sondheimer will inspect your eye pressure, visual field, and optic nerves. After your examination, Dr. Sondheimer may run a number of specialized tests including a tonometry, dilated eye exam, visual field test, retinal evaluation, pachymetry, gonioscopy, and visual acuity test. Using these tests, Dr. Sondhiemer can confirm the type and severity of glaucoma. After diagnosis, patients should begin treatment immediately.
How Does Glaucoma Cause Vision Loss?
Glaucoma is a condition in which the internal pressure in the eye is persistently elevated. This compresses the optic nerve at the back of the eye, resulting in irreparable damage. The optic nerve is the pathway through which light signals are sent to the brain for interpretation. Without adequate passage, light cannot be received in the brain.
What Causes High Eye Pressure?
Intraocular pressure develops when the eye either produces too much fluid or there is not sufficient drainage of fluid from the eye. Fluid is an integral aspect of eye health. It both lubricates the ocular surface and holds vital structures, including the retina, in place. The central part of the eye is made up of fluid, and is called the vitreous body. It is here where excess fluid can cause damage to the optic nerve.
Can I Prevent Glaucoma?
There is currently no known way to prevent glaucoma. Experts recommend maintaining regular visits with your ophthalmologist to monitor your eye health as you age. These visits include numerous tests, including a simple test to measure intraocular pressure, and can also involve a painless dilated eye exam to closely evaluate all of the structures in your eyes, including your optic nerve.
How Often Should I See My Eye Doctor if I Have Glaucoma?
Your ophthalmologist will make a follow-up recommendation based on the severity of your glaucoma diagnosis. You may be advised to return for a follow-up just a few months after glaucoma is diagnosed, or as long as 12 months after, provided that your intraocular pressure can be stabilized. Once we meet with you and perform a thorough examination, we can create a treatment protocol just for you!
Is Glaucoma Hereditary?
Studies suggest that open-angle glaucoma may run in families. If even one member of your immediate family (parent or sibling) has glaucoma, your risk of developing this condition increases by up to nine times. Now, having a family member with glaucoma also does not guarantee that you will get it, as well. It means that your risk is higher. Knowing that you have a greater chance of developing glaucoma, you are armed with necessary information that can motivate you to maintain regular annual visits with a trusted ophthalmologist. Early detection is the key to vision preservation.
Will I go Blind from Glaucoma?
Thanks to modern clinical interventions, glaucoma does not have to cost you your vision. It is important to know that any amount of vision loss that occurs due to glaucoma cannot be restored. Fortunately, glaucoma may take years to noticeably affect the visual field. With early detection and treatment, there is a good chance of living with glaucoma and good vision!
Dr. Sondheimer offers a couple of treatment options for patients that are diagnosed with glaucoma. While there is no cure for glaucoma, our office focuses on relieving symptoms as well as preventing further damage. Treatment options include:
- Eye drop treatment
- Laser surgery
Eye Drop Treatment
The first line of treatment of open-angle glaucoma is prescription eye drops, which adequately controls eye pressure in most patients. With regular follow up and consistent treatment, most patients do not lose significant vision. However, patients must administer eye drops daily, sometimes two to three times a day. Additionally, glaucoma medications can be expensive and often patients either forget to use the drops, have difficulty tolerating the medication or decide not to use the medication resulting in loss of vision.
Lasery Eye Surgery Treatment
Surgical procedures are typically the last resort to control the pressure inside of the eye. One type of surgical laser procedure is an iridotomy. During this procedure, a laser helps make a new passageway for fluid to leave the eye.
There is also a selective laser trabeculoplasty which uses laser technology to increase fluid drainage and reduce pressure inside of the eye. The procedure is quick, essentially painless, does not damage tissue, and is generally very safe. Selective laser trabeculoplasty has shown to be highly effective and studies show that between 80% to 90% of glaucoma patients are either able to eliminate or significantly reduce their medications after undergoing laser therapy.
Results of Laser Treatment
Dr. Sondheimer specializes in glaucoma treatment and has provided laser surgery treatment for many patients. He states “I have seen an excellent response from my patients who chose to undergo laser treatment for glaucoma. Many are relieved of the expense of medications, others were tired of trying to remember to administer eye drops several times a day, but above all, control of the disease is excellent, and these glaucoma patients are being managed very effectively with laser treatment.”
Schedule a Consultation
If you would like to learn more about glaucoma treatment or schedule a consultation, contact one of our North Suburban Chicago offices today! Call 847-677-2794 to schedule a consultation with top ophthalmologist Dr. Stuart Sondheimer. Glaucoma treatment is only one specialty of Dr. Sondheimer’s. He also provides exemplary patient care for those seeking treatment for cataracts and LASIK.