Glaucoma is a group of progressive eye diseases that affect your optic nerve. Your optic nerve is responsible for carrying information from your eye to your brain, and when it is affected in glaucoma, it can cause vision loss. This condition is often referred to as the “silent eye disease,” because there are very few symptoms in the early course of the condition. However, with regular eye exams and follow-up care, glaucoma can be effectively identified and managed by your eye doctor, preventing any significant vision loss from occurring.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Most of the time, glaucoma is caused by high pressure inside the eye, which results in compressive mechanical damage of the optic nerve. High eye pressure (referred to as your intraocular pressure, or IOP) can be caused by too much fluid being produced inside the eye, or not enough drainage of fluid occurring. In some cases, ocular inflammation or trauma can hinder the drainage of fluid, resulting in an increase in intraocular pressure and causing secondary glaucoma. However, most of the time, glaucoma is a primary condition with no specific incident leading to its development.
Signs and Symptoms of the Glaucoma
When high intraocular pressure in glaucoma continues to slowly damage the optic nerve, subtle changes in the visual field can occur. Small areas of vision can start to go missing. This is a painless occurrence, and usually isn’t noticed until significant vision loss has occurred. Since there are no obvious symptoms of glaucoma, you must rely on your eye doctor to vigilantly treat the disease to make sure it is not progressing. If you have glaucoma, your optometrist will closely monitor your intraocular pressure and frequently look at your optic nerve through a dilated exam to make sure no progressive damage is occurring. Your eye doctor will also ask you to complete additional tests such as a visual field test, which closely monitors the side vision of each eye, or an optical coherence tomography (OCT), which allows detailed imaging of optic nerve tissue to closely follow the disease.
Treatment of Glaucoma
While there is currently no complete cure of the disease, the condition can be managed with a variety of medicated eye drops. Depending on the stage of the disease, glaucoma can be treated with just one drop, or a combination of several topical medications. These drops are designed to lower the intraocular pressure and reduce damage to the optic nerve. In some cases, if medicated eye drops are not effective or not a good option, certain surgeries can be performed to lower the pressure inside the eye and prevent further glaucomatous damage from occurring. However, these glaucoma surgeries are usually not the first option of treatment.
The most important factor in treating glaucoma is communication with your eye doctor. If your optometrist suspects that you have glaucoma, they may ask you to return to complete some additional testing. If the condition is diagnosed, multiple follow-up appointments may be required to ensure the chosen treatment method is effectively treating the disease and protecting your vision.