If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with glaucoma, finding out what to do next can be a daunting task. Glaucoma is considered to be a disease that is without a cure. Eye damage and loss of sight from glaucoma are usually permanent, but there are treatments that can slow down vision loss and save the vision capability that is remaining. If you’re worried about possible vision loss, you should talk to your doctor about setting regular appointments to have your vision checked. Your doctor will tell you how often you need to go in based on your eye health, the shape and size of its inner structures, and any risk factors you may have.
First your doctor will have to confirm that you do, in fact, have glaucoma. Depending on your risk factors (your age, ethnicity, and vision issues), your doctor may want to test your vision. If you experience any vision loss or if your routine eye checks show that your vision may have degraded, your doctor will run a group of eye structure and function tests to see if you may have glaucoma. If your tests show that you do, and it’s found early on in the disease’s progression, your doctor may be able to slow permanent vision loss or protect your remaining visual abilities.
Early glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops or oral medications. The job of the eye drops is to medically lower the eye’s pressure. Glaucoma vision loss happens when eye pressure is too high for the eye and the pressure damages the optic nerve. Once damaged, the vision loss is permanent and the optic nerve can’t be repaired. With high-pressure related glaucoma, vision is lost in the periphery first, and then moves inward. If your eye doctor suspects you may have glaucoma, they’ll use a Tonometer to test to see if your eye pressure is elevated. If it is, they’ll prescribe eye drops to lower your eye’s pressure and keep your optic nerve from being damaged by the increased pressure.
Oral medications for glaucoma often affect the eye’s fluid production or fluid drainage abilities. When the eye is unable to properly drain fluid due to blockage or an incorrect angle of the eye’s structures, the pressure builds and the optic nerve can become damaged from the high pressure. By helping fluid drain better or by causing the eye to produce less fluid altogether, these oral medications are targeting towards working with the drainage issues in the eye to reduce pressure and save the remaining vision in the eye.
If medications are not enough, your doctor might suggest laser trabeculoplasty. This procedure uses a laser to burn tiny, imperceptible holes into your eye’s inner meshwork. These holes stretch the drainage holes in the eye’s meshwork and allow the eye to drain fluid easier. Laser tabeculoplasty is an outpatient procedure administered in the doctor’s office. The effects can eventually wear off, but a successful trabeculoplasty can reduce pressure and save a person’s ability to see.
Another option may be conventional surgery. If medicines, eye drops, and trabeculoplasty are not enough to lower the eye’s internal pressure, your physician might suggest a surgical procedure. Known as trabeculectomy, the surgeon will make a small incision and cut away a piece of tissue so that the eye has a new channel with which to drain fluid that can be building pressure in the eye.
Every person’s experience, success rates, and course of treatment will vary based on their needs, but certain aspects of the disease are the same for everyone. Increased inner eye pressure can be dangerous, and loss of vision around the periphery can lead to permanent loss of central vision as well. Depending on the urgency (if your glaucoma is found in the early stages of the disease or the later stages of the disease), your doctor will implement a treatment plan that is right for you.
Glaucoma, the “sneak theft of sight,” is known for being a disease that can arise before symptoms are obvious. One way to protect your future vision is to see your doctor regularly and have your eyes checked often.