Glaucoma is not just one eye disease, but a group of eye conditions resulting in optic nerve damage, which causes loss of vision. Abnormally high pressure inside your eye (intraocular pressure) usually, but not always, causes this damage.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. Sometimes called the silent thief of sight, glaucoma can damage your vision so gradually you may not notice any loss of vision until the disease is at an advanced stage. The most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, often has no noticeable signs or symptoms.
Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize or prevent optic nerve damage and limit glaucoma-related vision loss. It's important to get your eyes examined regularly, and make sure your eye doctor measures your intraocular pressure.
Glaucoma treatment is aimed at controlling the eye's fluid pressure, as a means of slowing the disease's progression. Such treatment does not cure the disease. Most doctors use medications for newly diagnosed glaucoma; however, new research findings show that laser surgery is a safe and effective alternative.
- Medications: Several medications, in the form of eyedrops or pills, are available either to enhance fluid drainage or decrease the eye's production of aqueous humor. Unfortunately, because anti-glaucoma drugs enter the blood system, they can cause various side effects such as headaches and respiratory problems. When such side effects occur, patients should consult with their eye care professional about alternative treatment regimens.
- Laser Surgery: Glaucoma treatment using an argon laser has proved beneficial in preliminary studies. In this form of treatment, a high-energy beam of light is directed onto the trabecular meshwork--part of the anterior chamber's drainage system--and approximately 100 tiny burns are made on its surface. The burns stretch the existing holes in the meshwork for better fluid drainage. Laser surgery, however, may be effective for only a short time and usually is used in conjunction with drops or pills.
- Surgery: Several procedures may be performed to improve drainage flow, such as a trabeculotomy, goniotomy, and trabeculectomy. All of these involve making a small hole in the anterior chamber through which fluid can leave the eye. Although these procedures have a fairly high success rate, they are generally reserved until medical therapy is no longer effective.