What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which is the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable containing numerous wires. When pressure inside the eye increases, damage to the optic nerve fibers may occur, causing blind spots to develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness will occur.
Early detection and treatments by your ophthalmologist are keys to preventing optic nerve damage and blindness from glaucoma.
What causes Glaucoma?
Clear liquid, called the aqueous humor, circulates inside the front portion of the eye. A small amount of this fluid is produced constantly, and an equal amount flows out of the eye through microscopic drainage system, maintaining a constant level of pressure within the eye.
Because the eye is a closed structure, if the drainage area for the aqueous humor, called the drainage angle, is blocked, the excess fluid cannot flow out of the eye. Fluid pressure within the eye will increase, pushing against the optic nerve and potentially causing damage.
How is Glaucoma detected?
Regular eye examinations by your eye doctor are the best way to detect glaucoma. A glaucoma screening that checks only the pressure of the eye is not sufficient to determine if you have glaucoma. The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have a complete eye examination.
How is Glaucoma treated?
As a rule, damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed. Eye drops, laser surgery and surgery in the operating room are methods used to help prevent further damage. In some cases, oral medications may also be prescribed.
With any type of glaucoma, periodic examinations are very important to prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma can progress without your knowledge, adjustments to your treatment may be necessary from time to time.
Glaucoma is usually controlled with eye drops taken on a daily basis. These medications decrease eye pressure, either by slowing the amount of aqueous fluid produced within the eye or by improving the flow through the drainage angle.
Never change or stop taking your medications without consulting your ophthalmologist. If you are about to run out of your medication, ask your eye doctor if you should have it refilled.
Laser surgery treatments may be recommended for different types of glaucoma. In open-angle glaucoma, the drain itself is treated. The laser is used to modify the drain (trabeculoplasty) to help control eye pressure. In angle-closure glaucoma, the laser creates a hole in the iris (iridotomy) to improve the flow of aqueous fluid to the drain.
Surgery in the Operating Room
When surgery in the operating room is needed to treat glaucoma, your ophthalmologist uses fine, microsurgical instruments to create a new drainage channel for the aqueous fluid to leave the eye. Should this type of surgery be necessary, your ophthalmologist can provide you with information about this procedure. As with laser surgery, surgery in the operating room is typically an outpatient procedure.