Glaucoma is a group of degenerative eye conditions that trigger a buildup of pressure inside the eye, which damages the optic nerve. This ultimately impacts your vision. The optic nerve is what allows you to trasmit visual information. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States (after macular degeneration) and affects approximately 3 million Americans. It is one of the more common diabetic eye diseases and is also seen in a disproportionately high percentage of African-Americans. At Cape Fear Eye Associates, PA in Fayetteville, NC, our eye doctor can diagnose glaucoma and determine what steps to take to treat it.
The optic nerve is a bundled structure of over 1 million nerve fibers running between the eye’s retina and the brain. It carries visual information that the brain converts into images, enabling people to see objects in their field of vision. When vital optic nerve fibers are damaged or destroyed, vision can be significantly impaired.
Glaucoma is the umbrella term for the group of diseases that damage optic nerve fibers, resulting in a process known as optic neuropathy. Damage to the optic nerve is most commonly a result of increased intraocular pressure, or pressure inside the eye. Normally, fluid flows in and out of the eye on a regular basis, nourishing the ocular tissues. However, when fluid is blocked, it can build up inside the eye, causing increased pressure and often damaging the optic nerve. This condition describes the most common type of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma.
In the early stages of open-angle glaucoma, there are no symptoms. However, as the disease slowly progresses, peripheral or side vision begins to deteriorate, and objects that would normally be seen out of the corner of the eye are missed. Eventually, tunnel vision develops. In its most advanced stage, glaucoma causes blindness.
Other Types of Glaucoma
While open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, there are other types: low-tension glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, and congenital glaucoma.
In spite of normal or even low eye pressure, damage to the optic nerve sometimes occurs. Low-tension glaucoma refers to optic neuropathy that develops unaccompanied by any increase in intraocular pressure. Prescription medication, surgery, or both may be used to treat this form of glaucoma.
Angle-closure glaucoma is a condition in which irregularities in the iris keep the fluid in the eye from reaching the angle that normally allows it to flow out. Symptoms appear suddenly and are typically quite severe. They include a significant increase in eye pressure as well as pain, brow ache, nausea, redness of the eyes, and blurry vision. People who experience these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. Angle-closure glaucoma rapidly causes blindness if not treated promptly.
Some children are born with an abnormal angle inside the eye, inhibiting or slowing the outflow of fluid and increasing intraocular pressure. The eyes of affected children are usually cloudy, watery, and sensitive to light. Surgery is generally successful in correcting the condition and enabling patients to develop normal vision.
Understanding Your Options
Glaucoma can be successfully treated, but early detection is vital, which is why most eye care professionals check for glaucoma during regular eye exams. Determining your best glaucoma treatment option begins by talking to your eye care professional, who can help you get a clear and specific understanding of your glaucoma treatment needs. Together, you’ll be able to come up with a plan to manage your condition. If you have been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate glaucoma learn more about Glaucoma Treatment Options.
In order to screen for glaucoma, our ophthalmologists dilate the patient’s pupils and examine the interior eye structures to look for damage to the retina or optic nerve. Numbing eye drops are applied and instruments are used to measure the pressure inside the eyes as well as the thickness of the corneas. Peripheral vision is also measured with a visual field test. These diagnostic procedures enable our ophthalmologists to assess whether or not a patient has glaucoma as well as how much vision damage, if any, has occurred.
Who Is at Risk?
According to the National Eye Institute, studies show that African-Americans are five times more likely to be afflicted by glaucoma and four times more likely to develop glaucoma-related blindness compared to Caucasians. People with increased eye pressure, optic nerve abnormalities, thin corneas, and hypertension are also at risk for glaucoma, as well as diabetics and people with a history of steroid use.
Many risk factors exist for the development of glaucoma. Some of these include:
• Elevated eye pressure
• Sudden considerable changes in eye pressure
• Older age
• African American ethnicity
• Hispanic ethnicity
• Asian ethnicity
• Having a relative with glaucoma
• Decreased central corneal thickness
• Blunt eye trauma
• Inflammatory eye conditions
If you have one or more of the glaucoma risk factors listed and are over the age of 35, you should visit your eye care professional for a full glaucoma exam. Early detection and treatment of high eye pressure is your best defense against glaucoma.
What You Can Do
Whether you have glaucoma or are at risk of developing the disease, there are a few things you can do to decrease eye pressure in an effort to prevent optic nerve damage and vision loss. While none of these measures alone will necessarily prevent damage from occurring, when taken together and combined with medical treatment, they will increase your chances of preserving your vision.
Exercise has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure as well as to improve blood flow to the retina and optic nerve. In particular, aerobic exercise done for at least 20 minutes, four times a week, with a heart rate increase of 20 to 25 percent, may reduce pressure in the eyes. If you have glaucoma or are at risk, make regular aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, swimming, or biking a part of your health regimen. Always check with your physician before beginning any course of physical activity.
The effects of caffeine on intraocular pressure are clinically significant, suggesting that caffeine should be limited in glaucoma patients and high-risk individuals. Research suggests that the more caffeine a person consumes, the greater the increase in his or her intraocular pressure. Beverages such as coffee, cola, energy drinks, and black tea should be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether.
Have Your Eyes Examined Regularly
If you believe you are at risk for glaucoma, you should contact an ophthalmologist as soon as possible to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Early treatment of glaucoma improves the chances of preserving your vision. Glaucoma treatment can significantly slow or even halt the progression of the disease, but it cannot restore lost vision.
People currently being treated for glaucoma should take their medications regularly, see an ophthalmologist at least annually, and schedule an eye exam right away if any new symptoms develop.
Contact Cape Fear Eye Associates for Glaucoma Treatment in North Carolina
If you have glaucoma or believe you are at risk for glaucoma, our North Carolina eye and vision care centers can provide you with the necessary screening and treatment to protect your eyes from vision loss.