Behind cataracts, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. While there are no known ways to prevent glaucoma, if caught early, it can be treated to prevent further damage to vision.
Darren Hill, MD, an ophthalmologist with Trinity Health, described glaucoma as a term used for a broad group of diseases that “result in damage to the optic nerve and subsequent, progressive, and permanent vision loss and dysfunction.”
While there are many contributing factors for glaucoma, high intraocular pressure – the amount of pressure inside the eyeball – is one of the most important risk factors, Dr. Hill said.
Of the different types of glaucoma, which can be caused by a variety of reasons (congenital defects, inflammatory and other eye diseases, or anatomic variations in the structures of the eye), primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma in the United States, affecting nearly one in 50 Americans over the age of 40, Dr. Hill said, adding that over 100,000 Americans suffer from blindness in both eyes due to this form.
With primary open-angle glaucoma, the eye does not drain fluid as well as it should, the American Academy of Ophthalmology explained on its website. As a result, eye pressure builds and starts to damage the optic nerve.
The second form of glaucoma – angle-closure glaucoma, also known as closed-angle glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma – occurs when the iris (the part of the eye that controls the size of the pupil to let light into your eye) is very close to the drainage angle in the eye. The iris can end up blocking the drainage angle, the AAO explained. “When the drainage angle gets completely blocked, eye pressure rises very quickly.”
“One of the devious things about glaucoma, particularly primary open-angle glaucoma, is that typically your central vision is the last area of the vision to be affected,” Dr. Hill said. “This means that you can sustain severe – and irreversible – peripheral vision loss before you notice a significant change in your vision.”
This change is “almost always gradual, painless vision loss without any outward signs that anything bad is happening to the eyes,” he said. “This highlights the importance of getting an annual eye exam, whether you wear glasses or not. If there is any known family history of eye problems or vision loss – glaucoma, in particular – a professional eye exam is essential.”
The risk for glaucoma increases with age, affecting most commonly those 40 years of age and over. A person’s family – particularly African heritage and/or a positive family history of glaucoma in a first or second-degree relative – also plays a part. “There are several other factors that have been shown to increase risk for progression that can be measured in the eye clinic,” Dr. Hill said.
However, the primary risk factor that seems to contribute most is eye pressure.
“This is a risk factor over which we can have the most control,” Dr. Hill explained. “Nearly all treatments that have proven to be effective in the literature can only be prescribed or performed by an eyecare professional.”
Treatment begins with topical eye drops, a laser procedure, or a combination of both, all performed in eye clinics. “Cataract surgery, in combination with additional eye pressure-lowering procedures, including the iStent and Hydrus microstent devices, can also be used to effectively lower eye pressure,” Dr. Hill said. “In more advanced cases of glaucoma, procedures involving external shunt devices can further lower eye pressure and slow the progression of glaucoma vision loss.”
These treatments are currently available at Trinity Regional Eyecare.
“Glaucoma is a disease that I like to catch early,” Dr. Hill said. “With the current technology available in the world, we are unable to recover vision that is lost to glaucoma damage. However, we can dramatically slow the process.”
Dr. Hill noted that he has seen patients for the first time presenting in the late stages of glaucoma disease and vision loss. “While there is still much that can be done to slow progression, I know that I can do much more the earlier I see the possibility that glaucoma is developing. Please do not miss the opportunity to preserve your eyesight!”
If eye pain, redness, and blurring of vision present, contact an eye clinic promptly.
“Anything that causes eye pain, redness, or blurring that persists for more than a few minutes should prompt a phone call to the nearest eyecare provider,” Dr. Hill said. “There are innumerable treatable causes of vision blurring, eye redness, or pain. Please get evaluated if you notice any of these symptoms.”
Ophthalmologists Darren Hill, MD; Evelyne Kindy, MD; Darrell Williams, MD; and Chad Wolsky, MD, are based at Trinity Regional Eyecare – Minot Center, located at Health Center – Plaza 16, 2815 16th St SW, Minot. For appointments or consultations, please call 701-857-3500.
Ophthalmologist Mark Raymond, MD, is based at Trinity Regional Eyecare – Western Dakota, located at Trinity Community Clinic – Western Dakota, 1321W Dakota Pkwy, Williston. For appointments or consultation, please call 701-572-7641. Ophthalmologist Robert A. Dicken, MD, is based at Trinity Regional Eyecare – Devils Lake, located at 404 Hwy 2 E, Devils Lake. For appointments or consultations, please call 701-662-4085