January is glaucoma awareness month, so there is no better time to talk about this common eye affliction. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of vision loss worldwide, second only to cataracts. Unlike cataracts, vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that leads to progressive damage of the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits light signals captured by the eye to the brain for interpretation by the visual cortex. In most cases of glaucoma, there is an elevation of eye pressure.
There are two main types of glaucoma: open angle and narrow angle. The part of the eye that drains aqueous fluid is referred to as the angle and is located where the iris and the cornea meet. In open angle glaucoma, the angle is open but does not function properly. This type of glaucoma is more common in patients of African descent. In narrow angle glaucoma, the part of the eye that drains fluid is narrow or even blocked, which leads to higher eye pressure. This type of glaucoma is more common in patients of Asian descent.
In most cases of glaucoma, the best strategy is early detection. The majority of early stage glaucoma patients have no symptoms at all, and thus the disease has been referred to as the “sneak thief of sight”. This is why it is important to have regular eye exams to screen for signs of glaucoma, especially if you have family members with the disease. In later stages of glaucoma, patients may notice a loss of peripheral vision. When the eye pressure is very high the eye will become painful, especially if this happens suddenly.
Treatment options all have the same goal: lower the eye pressure and prevent any further damage to the nerve. In most cases your eye doctor will start with eye drops to help lower the pressure. Some patients may be good candidates for laser procedures. In more advanced cases, surgery to lower the eye pressure may be necessary. Treating glaucoma is a lifelong, ongoing process that requires you and your doctor to work together to discuss and decide which treatments are best for your unique situation. We look forward to establishing this relationship with you at Milwaukee Eye Care.
Dr. Nicholas Frame, M.D.