Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness for people aged 60 and older. Increased internal eye pressure is glaucoma’s key characteristic. If left untreated, this progressive and irreversible eye disease can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness.
The human eye requires fluid to maintain its moisture, chemical balance and shape. This fluid, called “aqueous humor,” creates a natural pressure inside the eye. Throughout the day, the intraocular pressure inside the eye naturally fluctuates. When the internal eye pressure can’t decrease, the shape of the eye distorts. In turn, this distorts the light focusing in the retina.
The cause involves clogged canals in the eye that prevent this fluid from draining. As the lens proteins denature and degrade over time, specific environmental factors and physiological disorders can accelerate the deterioration of these healing mechanisms. These degraded proteins are what cause clouded vision.
There are two main types of glaucoma. Optometrists classify each type per the effect it has on the cornea:
- Open-angle: Wide, open angle between the iris and cornea
- Angle-closure: Narrow, closed angle
Because glaucoma generally develops slowly, patients may not notice its onset. Sometimes glare from bright lights or dulled colors in everyday life are clues that something might be wrong. Other times, it’s too late because the glaucoma has advanced too rapidly.
Glaucoma can result from other conditions or disorders:
- Old age
- Steroid use (usually as an immunosuppressant medication)
- Radiation treatment (usually for cancer)
These cloudy spots in the lens, called “opacities,” continue to clump together to further impair your vision. In the same way that rubbing grease on a window reduces how clearly you can see what’s on the other side, glaucoma reduces the lens’ ability to focus light onto the retina at the back of the eye.
During our licensed eye doctors’ <<comprehensive yearly eye exam>>, they use a variety of methods to better evaluate your pupils, cornea, iris, lens and retina for glaucoma:
- Visual acuity test
- Dark room proactive test
- Retinal exam with pupil dilation
What Our Glaucoma Eye Exam Looks For
We cover numerous indicators during our glaucoma exam:
- Overall lens opacity
- Any wedge-like opacities
- Swelling of the cortex
- Any white occlusions
- Density of the lens’ central zone
- Brightness of reflected light from the back of the eye
Despite a short, awkward adjustment period, pupil dilation is not uncomfortable. Administered with drops, it takes 15 to 30 minutes to open the pupils for comprehensive examination. Side effects include light sensitivity and blurred vision that last approximately three to four hours.
Glaucoma Treatment Options
Optometrists can treat glaucoma in a variety of ways. Eye drop medication is the least invasive treatment option. However, because glaucoma isn’t necessarily painful or highly noticeable, patients can be inconsistent in applying the eye drops. This inconsistency affects the long-term mitigation of glaucoma.
Laser therapy is a minimally invasive treatment option. This cyclophotocoagulation procedure targets the ciliary processes, located behind the iris, to reduce the production of aqueous humor. As a result, laser therapy decreases fluid inflow.
Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgeries
The many surgical options can be either microscopically or minimally invasive. Nevertheless, they are definitely more involved processes:
- Trabeculectomy is a procedure to make a small hole in the wall of the eye to create a “trapdoor” for fluid to drain. The success of trabeculectomies depends on how much the trapdoor, called “the bleb,” stays open.
- Optometrists can implant silicone drainage tubes in the eye during an operation that occurs under general anesthesia.
Why Is a Glaucoma Exam So Important?
You can’t recover vision loss from glaucoma. Most patients with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain. Early diagnosis and prevention can stop potential vision loss.
Our licensed optometrists can easily diagnose the early signs. You want to help your body as much as you can. By detecting eye and vision problems early, we can provide management options and — in many cases — prevent total vision loss.
Issues like these are why it’s so important to schedule <<regular annual eye exams>>. If your vision is getting worse before you’re due to see your eye doctor, make an earlier appointment so that you can consult with them as soon as possible.