Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in the United States. A simple, painless eye exam can detect the disease. With early detection and treatment, glaucoma can usually be controlled and blindness prevented.
Glaucoma can affect anyone from newborn infants to the elderly. It has been estimated that up to 3 million Americans have glaucoma. At least half of those people do not know they have it because glaucoma usually has no symptoms. People with the following conditions may be at greater risk:
- At least 45 years old without regular eye exams
- A family history of glaucoma
- Abnormally high eye pressure
- African descent
- Previous eye injury
- Regular, long-term use of cortisone/steroid products
To detect glaucoma, your physician will test your visual acuity and visual field and test the pressure in your eye. Regular and complete eye exams help to monitor the changes in your eyesight and to determine whether you may develop glaucoma.
Dr. Steinberg places great importance on detecting possible glaucoma in every patient he examines. Those who have signs of the sight stealing disease are tested with nerve fiber layer analysis and computerized visual field testing.
Types of Glaucoma
There are several types of glaucoma with two main types: open-angle and angle-closure.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma where the fluid in the eye drains too slowly through the network of tiny drainage channels, known as the trabecula. The pressure in the eye increases as the fluid in the eye continues to build. Loss of vision occurs gradually and the vision loss is not always noticed until it becomes irreversible. About 95 percent of glaucoma cases are due to open-angle glaucoma.
Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the tiny drainage channels, known as the trabecula, become blocked which then causes a sudden rise in pressure in the eye. This condition is not common but when it occurs it requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment of Glaucoma
Once glaucoma has been diagnosed, treatment should begin as soon as possible to help minimize the risk of permanent vision loss. There is no cure for glaucoma, so treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing further damage. Treatment for each individual case depends on the type and severity of the glaucoma. Some of the treatment methods for glaucoma are:
Eye drops or oral medication may be used to either reduce fluid production in the front of the eye or to help drain excess fluid. Side effects of the medication may result in redness, stinging, irritation or blurry vision. While glaucoma often has no symptoms, regular use of the medication is needed to keep the eye pressure under control.
Trabeculoplasty, iridotomy or cyclophotocoagulation are laser procedures that aim to increase the outflow of fluid from the eye or eliminate fluid blockages.
A trabeculectomy may be performed to create a new channel to drain fluid from the eye and reduce the pressure that causes glaucoma. Surgery is performed only after medication and laser procedures have been unsuccessful.
Prevention of Glaucoma
There is no way to prevent glaucoma from developing, however, the following suggestions may prevent glaucoma from progressing:
- Get regular comprehensive eye examinations
- Get an annual screening for glaucoma
- Follow the doctor's recommended treatment plan
- Make healthy lifestyle changes
- Protect eyes from injury
After losing some sight or experiencing low vision as a result of glaucoma, there are services and programs available that will help the patient lead a normal, independent life.