Glaucoma is sometimes called the “Silent Killer of Vision”. This is because it does not have any symptoms, until it is in the very advanced stages. It is part of a class of diseases that can only be detected by an eye-care professional during a routine eye examination.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma, also known as Chronic Open Angle Glaucoma, is part of a class of disease known as ‘optic neuropathies’. These diseases result in different forms of damage to the optic nerve. In this case, it is a slow-moving disease that affects the peripheral and mid-peripheral vision first. Ultimately, glaucoma can lead to blindness if undetected or untreated.
What are the common symptoms of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma does not have symptoms until the late phases of the disease. It can only be detect by an eye doctor, who must recognize the classic triad:
Increased Eye Pressure
Eye pressure must be checked with a specific set of instruments. Pressure above 20 mm Hg is abnormal and raises the suspicion of Glaucoma.
Abnormal Optic Nerve Shape
Typically, glaucoma patients have an increased ‘cup to disc ratio’ when they are examined. This is another finding that cannot be detected without an examination by an eye doctor.
Visual Field Abnormalities
A test performed in the office can detect very small losses of vision in the peripheral and near central vision. Most of the time, patients do not even know that they have lost some of their vision, but the test can find these abnormalities.
What are the common causes of Glaucoma?
The cause of the most common type of glaucoma, Open Angle Glaucoma is unknown. Recent research shows strong genetic links in some families, but most cases have no family history.
Treatment of Glaucoma
There are 3 types of treatment available for glaucoma, and all are very effective. Patients are usually offered eye drops or laser treatment as the first option for treatment. The most commonly used eye drop is a ‘once-a-day’ drop, with very few side effects. Laser can usually be done in office or in an outpatient laser center, and only takes a minute or two to complete. If either of these first therapies don’t work well enough, the other can be added on.
The last line of therapy is surgical, do increase drainage of fluid out of the drainage system inside the eye. This surgery is becoming less common as the eye drops improve, and as laser therapy becomes more available.
Glaucoma is a disease that requires careful testing to make the diagnosis, and lifelong treatment to maintain good vision. With a committed patient, who follows the plan properly, vision is maintained, and is rarely lost.