Don’t Let Glaucoma Steal Your Vision
Glaucoma is often called “the silent thief” because Glaucoma steals your vision, and you don’t know it. Of the estimated three million Americans who have glaucoma, only about half are aware they have it. Glaucoma does not cause pain, and the damage to your eyesight progresses slowly. How is glaucoma detected? By your eye doctor, during an eye examination when testing reveals elevated intraocular pressure, or IOP; or cupping of the optic nerve.
Glaucoma damages the eye’s optic nerve, which is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable is made up of many wires. The optic nerve connects your retina, where images are projected, to your brain, where the images are interpreted. Elevated IOP damages the fibers in the optic nerve, and if left untreated, this causes blindness.
The precise cause of glaucoma is unknown. A family history of glaucoma raises your risk of developing the disease. Other risk factors include age, African or Hispanic ancestry, past eye injury, and conditions that affect blood flow (migraines, diabetes, low blood pressure).
Early detection of glaucoma and treatment with eye drops, surgery, or both, can slow the progression of glaucoma and preserve the vision you have. There are five simple steps that are essential to managing glaucoma:
- 1. After the age of 40, have yearly eye examinations that include the measurement of IOP.
- 2. If you are found to have elevated IOP, follow the doctor’s treatment plan to control it.
- 3. Continue to have your IOP measured at intervals recommended by your doctor.
- 4. If surgery is indicated, don’t delay it, and follow the surgeon’s instructions.
- 5. Continue to follow your doctor’s recommendations for monitoring and treating glaucoma.
While glaucoma most of the time is managed with eye drops that lower IOP, surgery is recommended for other patients. Glaucoma surgery improves the flow of fluid out of the eye, lowering IOP.
In the eye, a clear fluid circulates inside the front portion. To maintain a constant healthy eye pressure, the eye continually produces a small amount of this fluid, (called aqueous humor) while an equal amount of this fluid flow out of your eye. If you have glaucoma, the aqueous humor does not flow out of the eye properly, elevating the IOP.
There are a number of surgical options that your surgeon may consider:
In Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty(SLT), the surgeon uses a low-level energy laser to target specific cells in the mesh-like channels where fluid flows out of the eye. Using very short applications of light, the surgeon enlarges the openings so fluid will flow more readily. The treatment has been shown to lower IOP. The advantage of this lase procedure is that if the pressure elevates the procedure can be repeated.
YAG PI Laser
This type of laser is used to perform a peripheral iridotomy, which is a treatment for a specific type of glaucoma called narrow angle glaucoma. The surgeon uses the YAG laser to create a small hole at the edge of the iris (the colored part of your eye). This improves the flow of fluid (aqueous humor) through the eye’s internal drainage system. Sometimes this lowers IOP, but the primary goal of this procedure is to reduce the risk of narrow-angle glaucoma.
In Trabeculectomy, a small flap is made in the outer white coating of your eye. A reservoir, called a bleb, is created. The bleb looks like a bump or blister on the white part of the eye above the iris, but the upper eyelid usually covers it. The fluid (aqueous humor) can now drain through the flap made in the sclera and collect in the bleb, where the fluid will be absorbed into blood vessels around the eye.
IOP is effectively controlled in three out of four people who have trabeculectomy. If the new drainage channel closes or too much fluid begins to drain from the eye, additional surgery may be needed.
Tube Shunt Procedures
If trabeculectomy cannot be performed, tube shunt procedures usually are effective in lowering IOP.
A shunt is a small plastic tube or valve connected on one end to a reservoir. The shunt is implanted in the eye through a tiny incision. The shunt redirects fluid to an area beneath your eye. The fluid is then absorbed into the blood vessels. When healed, the reservoir is not easily seen unless you look downward and lift your eyelid.
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with glaucoma treatment. In many cases, glaucoma experts first try a combination of medications (eye drops) and laser surgery. In some patients, the combination of medications and laser treatment does not control glaucoma. At that point, the surgeon may recommend a filtering bleb or a tube shunt procedure. Each eye in each situation is unique, and you should discuss the various options available to you to determine which of these options would be idea for your situation.
Any and all surgical procedures should be taken seriously. Even after the doctor has answered any questions you might have, you should take some time and think it over before committing to surgery.