Glaucoma is a progressive disease that affects the optic nerve (the structure of the eye that transmits information from the eye to the brain). Glaucoma is most commonly associated with elevated eye pressure inside the eye. While some types of glaucoma may cause acute pain and loss of vision, most types of glaucoma can develop over many years without causing pain or affecting vision until its advanced stages. While there is not just one cause of glaucoma, patients with a family history of glaucoma and/or consistently elevated eye pressures have a greater risk of developing glaucoma.
There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but there are many treatment options that can slow the progression of the disease if properly managed. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness. For these reasons, regular eye exams and early detection are critical.
Types Of Glaucoma: Chronic (Open Angle) Glaucoma This is the most common type of glaucoma, especially in those of African American and Hispanic descent. The angle refers to the space between the iris and the cornea through which the aqueous fluid (the thick watery substance that fills the space between the cornea and the lens of the eye) circulates to maintain a constant eye pressure. In open angle glaucoma, there is nothing blocking the flow of the aqueous fluid; instead, there is either a filtering, draining or reabsorption problem with the aqueous fluid inside the eye. As a result, the pressure inside the eye builds up. The pressure pushes on the optic nerve head and causes progressive atrophy (damage).
Acute (Narrow Angle or Closed Angle) Glaucoma This is the most visually threatening form of glaucoma as it may result in acute vision loss and ocular pain. When the angle is closed, the fluid is unable to circulate inside the eye, causing a rapid increase in eye pressure that requires emergent care. The signs are usually serious and may include blurred vision, severe headaches, eye pain, nausea, vomiting or seeing rainbow-like halos around lights. Occasionally, the condition may be asymptomatic, similar to open angle glaucoma. During a comprehensive examination, those who are at risk for angle closure glaucoma may also be treated with lasers to prevent an acute angle closure attack of glaucoma.
Secondary Glaucoma Secondary glaucoma refers to glaucoma that is caused by other systemic or ocular conditions not directly related to the anatomical structure or fluid drainage system. These include diabetes, leukemia, sickle-cell anemia, uveitis (ocular inflammation), arthritis, cataracts, eye injuries, steroid drug use and the growth of unhealthy blood vessels, among others.
Post-Surgical Glaucoma In rare cases, some ocular surgeries, such as retinal repair surgeries, may increase the risk of developing glaucoma.
Surgical Treatment for Glaucoma Laser Peripheral Iridotomy (LPI) For patients who have narrow angles or angle closure glaucoma, a small opening is made in the iris (the colored portion of the eye) to equalize the pressure difference inside the eye, and allow the angle between the iris and cornea to widen and facilitate the circulation of the fluid inside the eye.
Laser Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) For patients with primary open angle glaucoma, a laser is directed at the iris (the colored portion of the eye) to help lower the eye pressure inside the eye. This laser treatment may be used as an alternative to adding ocular topical medications or in combination with ocular topical medications. Lasers are effective in about 75% of patients in lowering eye pressure. SLT may be repeated.
Cyclophotocoagulation For more advanced cases of glaucoma, a laser may directed at the ciliary body (the structure in the body that produces the fluid inside the eye) to inhibit it from further production of fluid.
Trabeculectomy For patients who continue to have uncontrolled glaucoma despite topical ocular medications and laser treatments, filtering surgery is needed. A new drainage passage is created between the sclera and the chamber inside the eye where the fluid circulates to improve the eye pressure.
Glaucoma Shunt Surgery A tube shunt (an artificial channel) may be recommended for patients with neovascular (abnormal growth of new, weakened blood vessels) glaucoma, failed filtering surgery, or susceptibility to developing scar tissue. The tube shunt is inserted in the eye to facilitate drainage.