What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease of the eye in which the pressure inside the eye is too high, and this high pressure damages the sensitive vision system, causing loss of sight. The eye is filled with fluid which keeps it inflated, and the fluid flows into the eye through a spigot and flows out of the eye through a drain. In normal eyes, the spigot and the drain are perfectly balanced so the fluid flows in and out at the same rate, and the pressure stays the same. But in glaucoma, the drain doesn't work properly, and the fluid can't get out very well. The fluid keeps flowing in through the spigot, and when it can't get out, the pressure builds up. This high pressure damages the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain and tells the brain what you're seeing. When the optic nerve is damaged from high glaucoma pressures, you start to lose peripheral vision (side vision). If the pressure remains elevated, you can gradually lose all of your sight.
How do I know if I have glaucoma?
Glaucoma has no symptoms. It won't make your eyes hurt (your eyes can't feel the high pressures), or red, or watery, or even make your vision blurry. Since glaucoma takes away peripheral vision first, and takes it away gradually over months or even years, you won't even know it's disappearing because it happens so slowly. Only when your central vision (your straight-ahead vision) is damaged can you tell that some thing's wrong, and by then, the glaucoma is so advanced that we may not be able to save your sight.
The only way to tell if you have glaucoma is to get routine eye examinations to test for glaucoma. The best way to save your vision is to catch the glaucoma early, before too much optic nerve damage has been done. Glaucoma can be controlled by controlling the pressure in your eyes, either with eye drops that lower pressure, laser therapy that makes the drain of the eye work better, or even eye surgery to build a new drain for the eye. But remember, you don't know if you have glaucoma unless you get routine eye examinations.
To review our recommended routine eye examination schedule, click here.
Who should be tested for glaucoma?
Everyone. Anyone can get glaucoma, even children. So everyone should be periodically tested to be sure there are no signs of glaucoma. Some people have a higher risk of getting glaucoma than others. African- Americans have glaucoma five times more often than Caucasians, and they get glaucoma at a younger age than Caucasians. In fact, glaucoma is the most common cause of blindness among African-Americans. Also, glaucoma runs in families, so anyone who has a relative with glaucoma should be tested for glaucoma. In addition, people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and even nearsightedness have an increased risk for glaucoma and should be checked regularly.
How do I get tested for glaucoma?
Since glaucoma is caused by high pressure in the eyes, the first step is to measure the eye pressure. But even people with glaucoma will have normal pressures part of the time, so it's also important to look at the optic nerve for signs of glaucoma damage. If the pressure is high, or there is evidence of optic nerve damage, you might be asked to perform a visual field test to measure your peripheral vision. This test can tell us how much vision (if any) you've lost from glaucoma. The Eye Center of Central Georgia has the Humphrey Field Analyzer II, the best visual field measuring machine available.
How is glaucoma treated?
The most common treatment for glaucoma is eye drops. There are many different kinds of eye drops that work in different ways. Some reduce the production of fluid in your eye, and some help the fluid drain better. Your doctor may have you try several different types of eye drops before deciding on the best ones for you to use.
Glaucoma can also be treated with Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty, or SLT. The Eye Center of Central Georgia added an SLT laser to our surgical center in 2014, and we are pleased to offer this glaucoma treatment to our patients. To learn more about SLT, click here.