Early detection is critical to treating glaucoma

Glaucoma may cause loss of peripheral vision. (Photo courtesy of National Eye Institute)

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. It affects more than 3 million people in the country—nearly half of whom are unaware they have the disease.

As January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, Carolina Ophthalmology, PA wants to remind you that early detection and treatment can help protect your sight.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is known as the "silent thief of sight." It damages the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain.

Typically, the disease initially has no signs or symptoms. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause irreversible blindness. There are two main types of glaucoma:

1.Primary open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common form of glaucoma and occurs when the eye doesn't drain fluid as well as it should (almost like a clogged drain). This causes the eye pressure to build and, ultimately, it damages the optic nerve and leads to peripheral vision loss.

2.Angle-closure glaucoma: This type of glaucoma is less-common and may also be referred to as acute glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma. It occurs when the iris blocks the drainage angle of the eye (similar to a piece of paper sliding over a sink drain). According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, when the "drain" or drainage angle is completely blocked, eye pressure rises quickly. This is called an "acute attack," and could lead to blindness. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, you will notice symptoms during an acute attack, such as sudden blurry vision, severe eye pain or headache, nausea and vomiting, and rainbow-colored rings around your eyes.

"Glaucoma is typically symptomless to patients; however, permanent, irreversible vision loss can already be taking place," said Clayton H. Bryan, MD, a glaucoma specialist for Carolina Ophthalmology, PA. "Early detection is paramount to avoiding blindness and managing this disease."

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Who should get checked?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone have a comprehensive eye exam at age 40. This exam provides ophthalmologists (physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care) an opportunity to carefully examine the eye including the optic nerve for signs of damage and other possible problems that may affect vision.

Individuals at greater risk for developing glaucoma include:

  • People over age 40
  • African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics
  • People who have high eye pressure detected during an eye exam
  • Those who have a family history
  • Those who are farsighted or nearsighted
  • People who have an existing medical condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease
  • People who have experienced eye trauma or injury
  • Those with corneas that are thin in the center

What does treatment look like?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma or way to restore lost vision. However, medication can be used to prevent further vision loss.

Most often, glaucoma is controlled with daily prescription eye drops that lower the eye pressure. There is also a treatment called Selective Laser Trabeculectomy (SLT) that may be used to treat glaucoma.

This laser treatment is minimally invasive and performed in a doctor's office.

Another option, for mild to moderate glaucoma patients is the iStent, the smallest medical device approved by the FDA.

The iStent may be implanted during cataract surgery and oftentimes can reduce a patient's dependency on drops. Other laser and surgical options are also available for glaucoma patients as determined by their ophthalmologist.

Schedule an appointment with one of the highly qualified ophthalmologists at Carolina Ophthalmology by calling 800-624-6575 or visiting www.carolinaeyemd.com.