January 12, 2015

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma affects an estimated 3 million Americans and is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States.

Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eye rises resulting in slow progressive damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve sends information from the eye to the brain and damage to the optic nerve leads to a slow loss of vision. At first there are no symptoms and the slow loss of vision is not noticed. As a result, glaucoma is often referred to as The Silent Thief of Sight.

The most common form of glaucoma is open-angle. With open-angle glaucoma, the sponge-like drainage area in the eye becomes clogged, resulting in pressure build up when fluid inside the eye is unable to drain. Fifty year old Larry Hoffer of Brandon, Iowa began his battle with glaucoma over eight years ago. "My optometrist told me the pressure in my eyes was too high and he sent me to see a Glaucoma Specialist," says Larry. "He wanted me to begin treatment right away."

Anyone can develop glaucoma however some people are at higher risk than others. These groups include : African Americans over age 40, everyone over age 60, and those with a family history of glaucoma.

"Although I was pretty young, my mother, brother and sister have all been diagnosed with glaucoma. It didn't really surprise me when the doctor told me I had it too." Larry Hoffer

If left untreated, there is a strong possibility that glaucoma will cause progressive vision loss beginning with blind spots in peripheral vision, followed by tunnel vision and finally total blindness. Glaucoma treatments include medicines, laser treatments, surgical procedures or any combination of the three. While these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma. "Immediate treatment for early stage glaucoma can delay progression of the disease," says Wolfe Eye Clinic Glaucoma Specialist Ben Mason, MD. "Having an annual eye exam is crucial and will assist in early detection and treatment."

Medicines, in the form of eye drops or pills, are the most common early treatment for glaucoma. Some cause the eye to make less fluid and others lower pressure by helping fluid drain from the eye. In-office laser treatments called trabeculoplasty use a high-energy laser beam to open clogged drainage canals which helps fluid drain more easily from the eye. "In many cases, the laser treatment initially lowers the pressure in the eye, however over time, these canals may clog again, causing pressure to rise," says Dr. Mason.

If eye drops and laser treatment aren't effective enough in controlling eye pressure, a surgical treatment called a trabeculectomy may be used. A trabeculectomy is a surgical procedure where a small piece of the trabecular meshwork is removed, allowing the build up of fluid to leave the eye through this hole, lowering the eye pressure. "I started on eye drops in both my eyes right away, followed by laser treatments a few months later," says Hoffer. That worked for a while, but then the pressure in my left eye began going up again and my visual field tests were getting worse, meaning I was still losing some sight, so it was time for surgery."

"Mr. Hoffer has done very well," states Dr. Mason. "We will continue to watch his right eye closely, but since surgery, the pressure in his left eye has worked its way down to normal range- a huge success in the battle to save his sight!

Learn more about glaucoma and how Wolfe Eye Clinic can help.