The number of Canadians affected by glaucoma is quite startling – are you affected by this group of eye diseases that cause progressive damage to the optic nerve?
We’ve written here before about the causes and risk factors for glaucoma, as well as how the condition is detected and treated. Did you know that Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada?
The exact cause and mechanisms of glaucoma are not yet fully understood, although it’s believed that there is some level of mechanical compression and/or decreased blood flow to the optic nerve. Although high pressure inside the eye is often associated with glaucoma, some people develop glaucoma with “normal” eye pressure.
Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form. It results in a slow loss of vision with no discernible symptoms. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is less common and results in a sudden elevation of pressure and symptoms of pain, redness and nausea, making it easier to catch.
Secondary glaucoma is another form that can result from an injury, infection or a tumour in or around the eye, building up eye pressure.
Finally, it is possible to have Normal tension glaucoma, when eye pressure remains within the “normal” range but the optic nerve is still damaged. The reasons for this are still unknown.
Glaucoma occurs most frequently in individuals over 40 and the risk rises annually after age 60. A hereditary tendency for the development of the disease exists in some families. Individuals with African American ancestry are at increased risk, with the disease appearing earlier and progressing faster.
Be aware that there is also greater risk of developing glaucoma when you have one or more of the following:
- high blood pressure;
- prolonged corticosteroid use;
- other eye related risk factors, such as corneal thickness and optic nerve appearance, as well previous or existing eye conditions such as retinal detachment, eye tumours and eye inflammations;
- a history of eye injuries.
Regular eye examinations by an optometrist are important for people of all ages to assess whether glaucoma is present or the risk factors are present for developing glaucoma. It’s not possible to detect glaucoma without an eye exam.
A comprehensive eye examination is the first step. We use a simple and painless procedure called tonometry; this will be performed during your routine eye exam, measuring the internal pressure of your eye.
We will also inspect the drainage angle inside the eye and examine your eye to observe the health of the optic nerve and take measurements of your peripheral vision. We take a detailed look at your optic nerve through a dilated pupil using a series of hand held lenses, retinal photography and optical coherence tomography (OCT).
Given the variety of ways that glaucoma can present, treatment depends on the type, severity and progress of the disease. While Glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled, often with daily eye drops or laser surgery.
In more complicated cases, surgery may be needed to completely bypass the eye’s natural drainage system. Once vision is lost due to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. This is why regular preventive eye exams are so vital.