Glaucoma has been nicknamed “the sneak thief of sight.” According to the World Health Organization, it is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and it causes blindness in over 100,000 people annually. Glaucoma cannot be cured, and vision loss cannot be regained. But with proper treatment, it is possible to slow the progression of glaucoma and potentially halt further loss of vision.
A clear fluid, called aqueous humor, fills the front of your eye and provides nourishment to the tissues. Like the air in a balloon, the aqueous also provides pressure to help maintain the shape of the eye.
In most types of glaucoma, the eye’s natural drainage system loses function and the fluid inside the eye cannot drain. This lack of drainage causes an elevation of pressure within the eye. This increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) has demonstrated the ability to exert pressure on the optic nerve and result in vision loss.
Vision loss can have a very serious impact on one’s quality of life. Many people with glaucoma cannot drive a car safely, see their grandkids on the soccer field, or view the world as they once did. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision. To prevent this from happening, it is essential to lower your IOP.
Glaucoma can be grouped into two major categories:
- Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for ~ 90% of all cases. It exhibits few symptoms, if any, until it reaches an advanced stage
- Angle-closure glaucoma is less common but more severe, and is marked with a rapid rise in eye pressure and severe vision loss
People at the highest risk of getting glaucoma:
- Adults over 60 are 6 times more likely to have glaucoma than the general population
- African-Americans are 6 to 8 times more likely than Caucasians to have glaucoma
- People with a family history of glaucoma or diabetes are at greater risk for glaucoma
- About 800,000 Americans 40 to 50 years of age have elevated IOP from glaucoma
- Approximately 2,000,000 Americans over 70 have elevated IOP from glaucoma
Since glaucoma comes with few warning signs, regular eye exams are essential for detecting glaucoma early enough to allow successful treatment
- A routine glaucoma exam usually includes a test to measure pressure and an examination of the inside of the eye, primarily the optic nerve
- A visual field test may be used to monitor peripheral vision, helping the doctor determine the extent of vision loss and the effectiveness of treatment
- Medications are the most common form of glaucoma treatment today. Approximately 50% of glaucoma patients are on two or more medications to reduce IOP.
- There are many penetrating surgical or laser interventions that have the common characteristic of lowering IOP with different degrees of success and permanently damaging the anatomic structures of the eye. These include: trabeculectomy, iridectomy, iridotomy, laser trabeculoplasty and glaucoma implant procedures.
- Canaloplasty is the newest non-penetrating interventional procedure today that does not permanently alter the anatomy of the eye and leaves all other treatment options available if needed.
To watch an interview with Dr. Morgan and a patient who had a canaloplasty procedure, click here.