January 22, 2014

Eye Disease - Glaucoma

Unfortunately, glaucoma is a group of related eye diseases that can cause blindness. Diabetes is one of the risks for glaucoma. Symptoms don't appear until glaucoma has already damaged the optic nerve. Intraocular pressure is usually associated with optic nerve damage. The common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma and the causes are not understood. Glaucoma can develop without an increase in eye pressure.

People at risk can include anyone, but the following are at higher risk:
  1. People who are over the age of 60
  2. People of Mexican-American descent
  3. All African-Americans and especially those with high eye pressure, corneal thinness, or optic nerve problems
  4. People who have had a severe eye injury
  5. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes
  6. People with a family history of glaucoma
  7. A person who has increased eye pressure

Often people do not have any symptoms until vision is almost gone. As the vision decreases, the person with glaucoma may notice progressive vision loss, including:
  1. Developing blurry vision
  2. Narrowed side or peripheral vision
  3. Focusing problems
  4. A halo effect around lights, which typically occurs at extreme eye pressures and acute glaucoma attacks

There is no cure for glaucoma and once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. Early detection and treatment can often protect you from severe vision loss. Glaucoma treatment may include:
  • Eye drops or pills that help reduce pressure in the eye
  • Several kinds of laser treatments to decrease eye pressure or to compensate for narrow angle or peripheral glaucoma
  • Surgery to create a new opening for pressure causing fluid to drain from the eye

There are three types of glaucoma.
  1. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form in the United States. In this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged bit by bit. This slowly leads to loss of eyesight. One eye may be affected more than the other eye.
  2. Closed-angle glaucoma is less common. About 10% of all glaucoma cases in the United States are closed-angle. In this type of glaucoma, the colored part of the eye (iris) and the lens block movement of fluid between the chambers of your eye. This causes pressure to build up and the iris to press on the drainage system of the eye. A related type is sudden (acute) closed-angle glaucoma. It is often an emergency. If you get this acute form, you will need medical care right away to prevent permanent damage to your eye.
  3. Congenital glaucoma is a rare form of glaucoma that some infants have at birth. Some children and young adults can also get a type of the disease.

Early finding and treating glaucoma is important to prevent blindness. If you are at high risk for the disease, be sure to be checked by an eye specialist, an ophthalmologist, even if you have no symptoms.

If you are using medicine to treat glaucoma, take your medicine every day as directed. If you don't take your medicine, the eye pressure will increase and this may be causing permanent vision loss.

If your have lost some vision because of glaucoma, your eye doctor can refer you for low-vision services. Low-vision aids can help you make the most of your remaining vision.

Have regular eye exams every two years until age 60 and then every year afterward. I say age 50, as this is important for all eye diseases, unless you suspect vision loss, then get an appointment as soon as possible. The key to preventing glaucoma is to maintain normal eye pressure. What eye pressure level is "normal" for you? Only an eye doctor can determine this.

Remember, reducing eye pressure is the only known way to slow or stop the progression of vision loss from glaucoma. Only your eye doctor may notice high eye pressure or determine that you are at high risk for developing glaucoma. You may be asked to use eye drops or visit the doctor more often. In some people who are at risk for glaucoma, eye drop treatment can reduce the risk by about 50 percent.

What ever you do, always follow directions. If you don't trust your eye doctor, find another eye doctor if one is available.

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