What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease caused by damage to or excessive pressure on the optic nerve at the back of the eye. Glaucoma is most frequently caused when fluid circulating through the eye is unable to drain properly, causing an increase in intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye). This increased pressure may result from a gradual clogging of the drainage system with age (primary glaucoma) or from a secondary cause such as eye injury, iris inflammation, cataracts, diabetes, steroid use, or pigment dispersion (secondary glaucoma).
Pressure on the optic nerve, which is actually composed of millions of small nerve fibers, can damage these individual nerves, causing small blind spots to form in a patient’s visual field. These blind spots usually begin in the peripheral vision and can be so unnoticeable at first that many patients do not realize they have glaucoma until the disease is already well advanced.
Glaucoma can generally be classified into three main types. With open angle glaucoma, the eye’s drainage system is open but still not able to drain fluid as quickly as it is produced. A more rare form of the disease, closed angle glaucoma is a medical emergency because the drainage system is nearly or completely blocked, causing eye pressure to build up dangerously fast. A third form of glaucoma is known as low tension glaucoma because optic nerve damage occurs without any increase in intraocular (inner eye) pressure.
How do I know if I have glaucoma?
Glaucoma has almost no early warning signs. Most patients have no indication that the pressure in their eyes is elevated or that their optic nerve is damaged until the disease is well advanced. The disease usually affects peripheral vision first, so a patient could have “perfect” 20/20 vision but still have glaucoma. The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist. Eye Doctors of Washington offers glaucoma screenings with advanced visual field and optic nerve diagnostic technology in order to detect even the earliest glaucomatous changes.
Am I at greater risk of getting glaucoma if one of my parents had it?
A family history of glaucoma is a risk factor for developing the disease. This is particularly true if a parent or sibling has glaucoma, as glaucoma is a hereditary disease that can be passed from parent to child. If one of your parents has glaucoma, it is important to have regular glaucoma screenings with an ophthalmologist. Early detection of glaucoma allows effective treatment of the disease and can help protect your sight.
When should I be checked for glaucoma?
Adults over age 40 should have a complete eye exam with glaucoma screening every 3-5 years. Those with a family history of glaucoma, African-American ancestry, or other glaucoma risk factors should have their eyes screened more regularly on advice from their ophthalmologist.
Is glaucoma damage reversible?
No. Damage from glaucoma is permanent. You will never recover the sight you lose to glaucoma. That is why it is critical to have your eyes regularly screened. Early detection of glaucoma allows doctors to effectively treat the disease and prevent loss of sight.
How is glaucoma treated?
A variety of treatments can be used to effectively manage glaucoma, including eye drops, laser surgery, and conventional surgery. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the disease. Eye drops are often effective at lowering and maintaining intraocular pressure levels. Lasers are also frequently used to open the eye’s drainage system and allow fluid to drain. For those glaucoma cases that do not respond well to other treatment methods, conventional surgery may be recommended. Learn more about glaucoma treatment at Eye Doctors of Washington.
What should I expect if I’m having glaucoma surgery?
Most glaucoma surgeries at EDOW are performed on an outpatient basis. In many cases, local anesthesia is all that is needed for the operation, thus avoiding the risks and side effects of general anesthesia. You will need to be seen by your primary care physician prior to surgery to receive medical clearance.
How much time should I take off from work?
Most patients feel well enough to return to work just a few days following surgery. Your vision, though, may sometimes take longer to improve.
How can I find out more about glaucoma diagnosis and treatment at EDOW?
Please feel free to email Eye Doctors of Washington or call one of our DC area offices at 202.659.2050 (Washington) or 301.215.7100 (Maryland). Our knowledgeable staff would be happy to answer any specific questions you have or schedule an appointment for you to meet with Dr. Gaasterland.
Other links to help you find more information.http://www.aao.org/aao/patients/links/disorders.cfm http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/glossary.htm http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_risk.htm http://www.americanglaucomasociety.org/links.html
Glaucoma-dc.com is part of the EDOW network of eye care sites. EDOW offers Lasik Washington DC, laser vision correction and other refractive eye surgery procedures in Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland.
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