Globally, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. In the United States, 3 million people are affected by the condition.
If you are experiencing vision loss, see halos, or have eye pain, you could have glaucoma. It’s crucial to come in for an eye exam, as the earlier you are diagnosed, the better your treatment outcome is likely to be.
Let’s take a closer look at glaucoma, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a hereditary, degenerative eye condition that impacts the optic nerve. Typically, glaucoma is caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye and affects people later in life.
Glaucoma occurs when increased pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve – the optic nerve is responsible for transmitting images from your eyes to your brain. As the damage worsens, the condition can result in partial vision loss or, in some cases, permanent blindness.
Critically, most people that develop glaucoma have no symptoms early on. Estimates suggest that half of the people living with glaucoma don’t know it. That’s why regular eye exams are essential to long-term eye health.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease. Unfortunately, most people with it don’t experience symptoms until the disease progresses toward vision loss.
Some of the symptoms of glaucoma include the following:
- Vision loss, including partial and peripheral vision loss
- Redness in the eye
- Seeing halos, especially around lights
- Eye pain
- Sore stomach and vomiting
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
The good news is, glaucoma tests are completely painless and very quick. Your doctor will run through a standard vision test before using eye drops to dilate your pupils. With your pupils widened, your doctor can investigate your optic nerve for damage. Photographs might be taken, too, so your optic nerve health can be tracked over time.
Finally, your doctor might do an examination called tonometry, which checks eye pressure.
How is glaucoma treated?
Once glaucoma causes vision loss, it cannot be restored. However, treatments can help you maintain your full or remaining vision before glaucoma results in further damage. You have several options, including eye drops, medication, and surgery.
- Eye drops affect the fluid in your eyes, with some increasing and others decreasing fluid production.
- Medication is typically taken orally and impacts fluid creation in your eye to improve drainage and release pressure.
- Laser surgery for glaucoma can either enhance the flow of fluid from your eye or prevent fluid blockage, depending on the type of glaucoma you have. Common laser eye surgeries include:
- Trabeculoplasty, which re-opens or widens the drainage area in the eye
- Iridotomy, which creates a small hole in the iris to allow fluid to move freely
- Cyclophotocoagulation, which focuses on the middle layer of your eye to minimize the production of fluid
How to lower your risk of eye damage after a glaucoma diagnosis
You cannot prevent glaucoma. However, if you are diagnosed early, you can lower the severity of the damage. Here are some ways to protect your vision following a glaucoma diagnosis:
- Attend eye exams regularly to ensure your eye doctor detects the signs of glaucoma sooner rather than later. Experts recommend a glaucoma examination every three to five years. If you are 40 years or older with a family history of the condition, aim for an eye exam every 12 months.
- Follow your treatment plan carefully and administer your prescribed eye drops or medication as directed by your doctor.
- Always protect your eyes when outdoors using sunglasses.
Find out more about glaucoma examinations and treatment
If you would like to schedule an eye exam or undergo surgical treatment for glaucoma, please schedule an appointment today.