A group of eye ailments that damage the optic nerve is glaucoma. The optic nerve transmits images from the retina, the specialized light recognizing tissue, to the brain to ensure that we see. In glaucoma, increased intra-ocular pressure (IOP) has a role in injuring the optic nerve’s delicate nerve fibers. Here, no specific level of IOP is defined that leads to glaucoma. When a major number of nerve fibers get damaged, blind spots start developing within the field of vision. Once nerve damage and simultaneous visual loss occur, it is eternal.
Most people don’t realize the blind areas till much of optic nerve damage is already done. If the entire nerve gets destroyed, it results in blindness. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness the world over, especially among the old. Detecting it early and getting it treated by an ophthalmologist are the solutions to prevent optic nerve damage and loss of vision from glaucoma. Here’s what you need to know about Glaucoma.
Types of Glaucoma
Though there are several types of including normal-tension glaucoma, congenital glaucoma and others, the two main types are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. There are again other variants of these two kinds like pigmentary glaucoma, traumatic glaucoma, secondary glaucoma etc.
Accounting for almost 90 percent of all glaucoma cases, open-angle glaucoma occurs due to slow clogging of drainage canals which result in IOP. Here, angle between cornea and iris is open and wide. Since it occurs painlessly, its progress is not noticed till the damage is done.
This is less common and occurs when the angle between cornea and iris is open and wide. The blocked drainage canals result in IOP. It shows up as blurred vision, headache, severe eye pain, rainbow halos around lights, vomiting and nausea. Immediately rush to the ophthalmologist and treat it accordingly.
Causes of Glaucoma
Open-angle glaucoma has no specific cause. People with anatomically smaller eye, like the Chinese and the Japanese, are at a risk of angle-closure glaucoma. Eye inflammation, eye injuries, prior ocular surgery, steroid eye drops usage, eye tumors and diseases like diabetes and uncontrolled hypertension, or other structural eye abnormalities may cause secondary glaucoma. Glaucoma is also hereditary, so a person is at higher risk of developing glaucoma if any of his family members have had it. Older people are the most affected. Near and farsightedness too are also the culprits in increasing the risk of glaucoma.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Although glaucoma comes with no noticeable symptoms, you should look out for some warning signs like unusual trouble in adjusting to dark rooms, blinking or squinting because of unusual sensitivity to light, change in iris color, regular pain around the eyes, swollen eyelids, lines and corners appearing wavy, double vision, dry eyes with burning sensation, excess watery eyes, seeing shadowy images etc.
Tests and Diagnosis
Visiting the ophthalmologist for regular eye checkups is the best way to identify glaucoma. The ophthalmologist measures eye pressure (tonometry); inspects the eye’s drainage angle (gonioscopy); evaluates the optic nerve (ophthalmolscopy); and tests the visual area of each eye (perimetry). These tests are done at systematic intervals to check on the effects of glaucoma. The information from these tests indicates the effectiveness of the treatment being given and whether any further treatment is required. For each person and at every visit, these tests may vary. The purpose of the tests is to diagnose and keep check on the progress of glaucoma.
Treatment and Drugs
The type and severity of glaucoma decides the treatment for it. Usually, glaucoma is irreversible, but it can be controlled. Pills, eye drops, surgical interventions and laser procedures are used to avoid or slow further damage to the eye. For any type of glaucoma, having a regular eye check up is crucial in detecting progression and in preventing vision loss. As glaucoma worsens without intimating, the treatment might need to be changed gradually to attain lower ‘target eye pressure’.
Prevention and Management
Though primary glaucoma cannot be prevented, further vision loss can be arrested with timely medical intervention. Secondary glaucoma which is a result of eye injuries or specific diseases like diabetes and uncontrolled hypertension; can be avoided with certain measures like protective eye-wear to dodge eye injuries and proper controlling of diabetes and hypertension levels.
In case of acute angle-closure glaucoma, performing laser procedure prior to its onset can help in eliminating it. To check if one is at the risk of acute angle-closure glaucoma, one should visit an ophthalmologist for an eye examination.
When detected with glaucoma, strictly adhere to the glaucoma medication regimen. Follow same place-same time mantra for glaucoma medications. Use an alarm to keep track of the frequency with which you need to use the medication. If using a sticky note with a wide-tip marker on the mirror helps, then follow it. Don’t be shy of asking for help from your immediate family.