Glaucoma Care in Tempe, Ahwatukee and Sun Lakes
Glaucoma is an eye disease characterized by optic nerve damage. While the greatest risk factor for glaucoma is increased eye pressure, glaucoma may also occur in the absence of increased eye pressure. Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease, meaning it worsens over time if left untreated. Vision loss from glaucoma is not uncommon. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.
How does Glaucoma happen?
The bundle of nerve fibers connecting the eye to the brain is called the optic nerve. With glaucoma, this optic nerve becomes damaged. When the optic nerve is damaged, messages from the eye to the brain are interrupted. If glaucoma is left untreated, these messages may end altogether.
Glaucoma is typically an asymptomatic eye disease. Most patients do not notice the early stages of vision loss. The vision loss generally becomes noticeable only after a significant amount of optic nerve damage has occurred.
Think of it like this: The optic nerve is like the cord connecting your computer to the electricity in the wall. Now imagine that your computer doesn’t have a backup power cord, nor does it have an internal battery. The only way you receive power for your computer is by plugging it in to the outlet on the wall, and voila! You now have the ability to easily access unlimited information on the web. If, for some reason, your connecting cord begins to fray, you may not notice a difference right away, but eventually, some of the images on your screen may be limited or you may not be able to see them as well. In the same way, the optic nerve connects the eye to the brain, and if that nerve is damaged, you may not experience anything unusual. That is generally what the progression of glaucoma is like. For many people, it remains undetected because of lack of symptoms until the cord is damaged almost to the point of separating.
Continuing with the analogy, when your computer cord frays completely through or when you unplug your computer altogether, energy to your computer halts and you are unable to access any information on the web at all. That is akin to what happens when glaucoma progresses untreated. The connection between the brain and the eye fails, and when it fails, it will not be able to be re-connected.
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How prevalent is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness both in the United States and in the world. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Here in the U.S., more than 2.5 million people are affected by the disease. Worldwide, the American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that in 2020, the number of individuals with glaucoma will reach around 76 million. There is no cure for glaucoma, but there are treatments and medications that may effectively slow its progress.
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What factors contribute to someone being at-risk for glaucoma?
- Age. Those 60 years and older have a higher risk of developing glaucoma, and the risk increases slightly with each year of age.
- Certain racial factors. African Americans are more at-risk for glaucoma once they reach the age of 40. Asians and Asian Americans are also at higher risk for a specific type of glaucoma called angle-closure glaucoma.
- Family history. Genetic patterns have been shown to be a factor for developing the disease.
- Chronic eye inflammation or eye tumors.
- Individuals who take certain medications which may increase eye pressure (for example, corticosteroids).
- Severe trauma to the eye. This may cause an immediate or future increase in eye pressure.
What can I do to prevent glaucoma?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, if the disease is diagnosed early enough, medication or surgery can normally help slow its progression. Glaucoma is a disease with no preventative steps or recommendations except to be tested. There are no “red flags” in your health that would indicate that you have glaucoma. Many people do not even know they have glaucoma since it generally damages their optic nerve without symptoms. Once glaucoma has been diagnosed, medications, laser treatments, and surgery can effectively treat the glaucoma by lowering the eye pressure and decreasing the likelihood that the glaucoma will progress. With successful treatment, many patients are able to continue performing normal daily activities.
For the reasons above, it is important to make your annual appointment here with us at Ophthalmic Surgeons and Physicians. Not only to we have the state-of-the-art equipment to test for glaucoma, but we also have highly-trained medical staff who are able to perform the surgeries and procedures necessary to help prevent glaucoma progression.
How will my doctor know if I have glaucoma?
Besides taking an account of your personal health history, there are specific tests that your doctor here at Ophthalmic Surgeons and Physicians will perform to detect the presence of glaucoma. These include:
- Testing inner eye pressure. An increase in intraocular (or inner eye) pressure (IOP) is a major risk factor for glaucoma. What does inner eye pressure have to do with glaucoma? Increased IOP can occur as a result of defective drainage of aqueous humor. Aqueous humor is the clear liquid filling the space at the front of the eyeball. When the aqueous humor is not drained properly, then increased inner eye pressure and/or poor blood flow to the optic nerve causes damage to the optic nerve.
- Looking for signs of optic nerve damage utilizing optic nerve imaging, which shows the shape and color of the optic nerve.
- Evaluating visual fields by using the Humphrey Visual Field Test, which is the gold standard in ophthalmology.
- Examining the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea. This will help determine whether the glaucoma is in the open angle or closed angle category.
- Checking the corneal thickness. The thickness of the cornea can affect the interpretation of the IOP measurement.
Here at Ophthalmic Surgeons and Physicians, we have multiple treatments and surgical procedures to treat and halt the progression of glaucoma. Upon the completion of your eye examination, we will be able to recommend which treatment or procedure may be right for you.
Some surgical and laser treatment options that are available include:
- Laser Iridotomy: During this procedure, we make a small laser hole in the iris (the colored part of your eye) to allow fluid drainage. This procedure is indicated for narrow angles or angle closure glaucoma.
- Laser Trabeculoplasty: During this treatment, we use a laser to stimulate the drainage system of the eye, which helps with fluid outflow. This procedure is indicated only for open angle forms of glaucoma.
- Trabeculectomy: We use this procedure to lower eye pressure by creating a drainage pathway underneath the conjunctiva (the membrane surrounding the eye wall).
- Glaucoma Implant (Tube Shunt): We perform this procedure by placing an artificial device under the conjunctiva, effectively lowering eye pressure.
- MIGS (Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery): This category of treatment includes several newer, less invasive procedures that may lower IOP with a lower risk profile. This category of treatment includes microtrabeculectomies with devices such as the Xen Gel Stent and PRESERFLO microshunt, trabecular surgeries such as the Trabectome or iStent, suprachoroidal shunts such as the Cypass Microstent, and new laser procedures such as the Diode G6/MP3 laser. (Ophthalmic Surgeons and Physicians offers select MIGS procedures.)
Beyond the surgical options, we are also able to treat glaucoma with eye drops and medications.
We at Ophthalmic Surgeons and Physicians are happy to serve you with our multi-system approach to treating glaucoma. Make an appointment today to speak with us and learn more about this condition!