January is National Glaucoma Month
Glaucoma is a condition in which the optic nerve, responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain, is damaged. It may begin with the loss of peripheral vision, advance to a reduction in central vision, and potentially lead to vision loss or blindness.
Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) gradually reduces your peripheral vision; however, by the time you notice it, permanent damage has already occurred. According to local ophthalmologist Jonathan M. Frantz, MD of Frantz EyeCare, “If your IOP remains high, the destruction can progress until tunnel vision develops, and you will only see objects that are straight ahead.”
Angle-closure glaucoma or narrow-angle glaucoma produces sudden symptoms such as eye pain, headaches, halos around lights, dilated pupils, vision loss, red eyes, nausea, and vomiting. These signs may last for a few hours, then return again for another round. Each attack reduces your field of vision.
“During routine eye exams, several tests can help us detect glaucoma,” said Dr. Frantz. “A tonometer measures intraocular pressure. An abnormally high IOP reading indicates a problem with the amount of fluid in the eye. Either the eye is producing too much fluid, or it’s not draining properly,” explained Dr. Frantz.
Visual field testing, which involves staring straight ahead into a machine and clicking a button when you notice a blinking light in your peripheral vision, monitors whether blind spots are developing in your range of vision, resulting from glaucoma damage to the optic nerve.
“When we suspect glaucoma, we use a GDx Access Nerve Fiber Analyzer, which uses a low-level laser to scan the retinal nerve fiber layer, the part of the eye damaged by glaucoma, allowing us to make an early diagnosis,” said Dr. Frantz. The optical coherence tomography (OCT) also establishes a baseline and makes sure no obvious changes have occurred over a period of time, which might indicate progressive glaucoma damage.
Most cases of glaucoma can be controlled with one or more drugs; however, some people may require surgery to reduce their IOP to a safe level. Occasionally, surgery can eliminate the need for glaucoma eye drops. All glaucoma procedures are designed to accomplish one of two basic results: decrease the production of intraocular fluid or increase the outflow of this same fluid. Occasionally, a procedure will accomplish both.
According to Dr. Frantz, African-Americans over 40, Hispanics, people with a family history of glaucoma, individuals over 60, people with other health conditions such as diabetes, and those who have experienced a serious eye injury, are considered at risk. If you fall into one or more of these categories, talk with your eye doctor about how often an examination should be conducted to ensure good vision. Although glaucoma cannot be cured, early detection and treatment can usually preserve vision.