Glaucoma is a very common yet concerning eye disease affecting an estimated 400,000 Canadians. Glaucoma slowly damages your retinal nerve, causing cumulative and permanent vision loss. This all usually takes place without presenting any noticeable symptoms.
Early Diagnosis & Management is Key to Long-Term Visual Health
There is no cure for glaucoma, however, it can typically be easily managed through a combination of medications, regular in-office check-ups, and if necessary, surgical procedures.
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What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a vision-threatening disease usually caused by an increase in eye pressure (called intraocular pressure, or IOP). This increase in pressure damages the optic nerve and can cause partial or complete loss of vision if left untreated.
While glaucoma is generally described as a singular disease, it is actually a grouping of related eye diseases that damage the optic nerve (the information pathway from the eye to the brain).
In more than half of the cases, increasing IOP is the cause of glaucoma. This is due to your eye fluid (called aqueous humour) failing to drain normally. Other causes, such as blocked blood vessels or an eye injury, can also cause glaucoma. Glaucoma can also develop in the presence of normal IOP and that is why other tests are necessary to definitively decide if one has it or not.
Diagnosing & Managing Glaucoma
Once glaucoma is diagnosed, it can usually be successfully treated and managed indefinitely.
The best way to diagnose glaucoma is through a comprehensive eye exam. At Peninsula Lifetime Eyecare Centre, we utilise sophisticated diagnostic equipment that can produce exceptionally-detailed images of the inner eye (and of the optic nerve specifically).
We diagnose glaucoma with:
- Tonometry – This measures IOP which is a risk factor for glaucoma.
- Ocular coherence tomography – This produces detailed images of the optic nerve.
- Physical inspection – We assess the eye’s drainage angle and corneal thickness.
- Visual field test – Glaucoma initially causes peripheral vision loss, which can be identified through visual field testing.
- Topical medications (eye drops) – Specially formulated eye drops lower IOP, stabilising glaucoma.
- Oral medications – Typically used in conjunction with eye drops, oral medications again reduce IOP.
- Laser surgery – In cases where IOP refuses to regulate via medication, laser surgery (called laser trabeculoplasty) is used to increase fluid outflow and regulate IOP. It is recommended in situations where medications prove ineffective.
- Other surgeries – In addition to laser surgery, other surgeries exist that facilitate drainage. There are numerous varieties that each use different mechanisms to achieve the same goal. Specifics of each surgery vary based on the patient- if appropriate, we will discuss these with you.
There are several different varieties of glaucoma. The two most common types are open-angle glaucoma, responsible for 90% of all cases, and angle-closure glaucoma, responsible for around 5% of cases.
- Clogged drainage canals in the eye gradually cause increased IOP. This condition is slow to develop and will be present for life. Once diagnosed, this disease requires ongoing management.
- Open angle glaucoma develops with few (if any) noticeable symptoms before tunnel vision begins to set in.
Unlike other types of glaucoma which form gradually, angle-closure glaucoma can develop extremely quickly. Also unlike other forms of glaucoma, angle-closure presents with significant pain, nausea, and discomfort.
If you experience intense eye pain, vomiting, headache, obscured/blurry vision, and eye watering, you must seek medical assistance immediately as your eyesight could be at risk.