Most commonly, glaucoma results from increased pressure within the eye. Thinking of the eye as a sink, with the water always on, the increased pressure is either due to the faucet running too much, or from the drain being clogged. Over time, this increased pressure pushes against the optic nerve inside the eye, causing it to become damaged, and vision loss results.
It is important to realize that glaucoma typically has no early symptoms, and can only be detected by your eye doctor. The most common type of glaucoma does not cause pain, and vision stays normal until it is lost.
Untreated, glaucoma causes slow progressive loss of vision, which begins as loss of peripheral (side) vision. Eventually, the visual field closes in from the outside, and in end stages, complete blindness can result.
Once vision is lost due to glaucoma, it can never be recovered. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment is the only way to prevent vision loss.
Glaucoma is detected and diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination, which may include any or all of the following:
- Tonometry: accurately measuring the pressure inside the eye
- Dilated fundus examination with Ophthalmoscopy: The instillation of drops in the eyes to widen the pupils and allow Dr. Mitchell a complete view of all intraocular structures
- Pachymetry: measurement of the thickness of the cornea
- Visual Field Testing: Determination of the sensitivity of your peripheral vision
- Imaging Technology: Retinal and/or optic nerve photography, which can be useful to monitor progression of damage to the optic nerve over time.
- Optical Coherence Tomography: This state of the art spectral-domain instrument quantitatively measures the anatomical structures of the eye, analyzing the thin tissues which make up your optic nerves. Our office is proud to have the most advanced system of its kind available.
- Gonioscopy/Anterior Segment Imaging: This testing is done to closely examine the “drain” within the eye to determine if outflow of fluid from the eye is causing excess pressure to build.
These techniques are all important to diagnose glaucoma early. Because vision lost from the disease cannot be restored, early diagnosis and immediate treatment is paramount .
Glaucoma treatments include medicines (eye drops), laser procedures, conventional surgery, or a combination of any of these. The goal of any treatment is to prevent loss of vision, but there is no “cure” for glaucoma. It must be consistently treated and managed.
If you are being treated for glaucoma, be sure to take your prescribed glaucoma medicine every day, and see your eye care professional regularly.
You also can help protect the vision of family members and friends who may be at high risk for glaucoma-African Americans over age 40; everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans; and people with a family history of the disease. Encourage them to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. Remember that lowering eye pressure in the early stages of glaucoma slows progression of the disease and helps save vision.