Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected])
For a once sighted person, losing the ability to see is perhaps the most psychologically painful health challenge that can befall one. Vision loss practically turns a person’s life upside down, creating a state of dependence on another person, who begins to carry the burden of helping the challenged person to move around safely and engage in a limited number of activities, until he/she can learn to use a cane.
Whereas a person who has cataract can, with surgery and the aid of special lenses may be able to see again and have a normal life, a person who has glaucoma, which is another major vision-related health problem, can ultimately suffer irreversible vision loss and thereby become blind for life.
What is glaucoma?
It is a condition that can damage the optic nerve at the back of eye, usually because of too much pressure in the eyeball. The optic nerve does an important job. It sends signals from the eye to the brain, which turns them into an image you can see. When the optic nerve isn’t working right, you’ll get problems with your vision. You can even lose your sight.
What causes glaucoma?
The eyes make a fluid that bathes and nourishes tissues in them. Normally the liquid flows through a channel called the drainage angle. When you have glaucoma, the channel stops working well. Fluid backs up and causes pressure to build up inside your eye.
Who gets glaucoma?
You’re more likely to get the condition if your parent, brother, sister or another close relative has it or had the medical condition. Your chances of getting it are greater if you’re over 40, an African, African-American or Hispanic. A person could also get glaucoma because of things like these:
High pressure in eyes
Eye injury or surgery
Thin cornea (clear layer in front of the eye)
Diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease
Problem with your optic nerve
You use steroid eyedrops or pills
Types of glaucoma: There are four main kinds of glaucoma.
Open-angle: This is the most common type which affects about 90 per cent of people with the disease. It’s called “open angle” because there’s a clear opening to the drainage canal, which gets clogged farther inside. This type comes on slowly. You may not notice any symptoms at first.
This type comes on fast and it›s a medical emergency. It typically happens to people with a narrow opening to their drainage canal, which gets blocked suddenly. That keeps fluid from flowing out of your eye. Pressure inside the eye rises quickly. If you get severe eye pain, headache, nausea, or vision loss, get medical help right away to prevent blindness. You›ll likely need surgery to open up the drainage canal.
If you have this kind of glaucoma, the pressure in your eye is normal, but you still get optic nerve damage. Doctors aren’t completely sure why. One possibility is you’re extra sensitive to slight increases in eye pressure. Or it may be that lower blood flow to the optic nerve is causing damage. Your doctor may suggest a treatment that puts your eye pressure at a level that’s lower than normal.
It’s a rare form of the disease that affects babies. It happens when the drainage channels in the eyes don’t properly develop in the womb. Your baby’s eye may get cloudy and look larger than normal. Surgery can fix the problem. Most babies who are treated early will have normal vision throughout their lives.
What are the symptoms?
Since open-angle and normal-tension glaucoma sneak up on you slowly, symptoms may not show up until the disease is already far along. Without treatment, you’ll slowly lose your peripheral (side) vision. That means you may miss objects that you would normally see out of the corner of your eye. It’s a bit like looking through a tunnel.
Tests for glaucoma
A regular eye exam is the best way to find glaucoma early. Your doctor will do some or all of these tests:
Measure the pressure inside your eye
Test your side vision
Measure the thickness of your cornea
Use a magnifying tool to check your optic nerve for damage
Take a picture of your optic nerve
Check the drainage angle in your eye
Treatments for glaucoma
When a doctor, usually an ophthalmologist, determines that you have glaucoma, he/she would suggest eyedrops or pills to manage your glaucoma. They cut how much fluid your eyes make and help it drain off. Take your medicine every day to keep your condition under control. Let your doctor know if you get side effects, like burning, stinging, and redness in your eyes.
Again, depending on the diagnosis made by the doctor, glaucoma may be treated with laser in a procedure known as laser trabeculoplasty, which is designed to treat open-angle glaucoma. In the procedure, the doctor will make your eye numb (that is anaesthetize your eye) and then use a laser beam to make small holes in the drainage channel to help fluid flow out. Usually doctors treat one eye at a time. Laser surgery can lower pressure in your eyes, but the effects may not be permanent. Some people need more than one surgery to get long-term results.
If medicine and laser surgery don’t lower the pressure in the eye enough, your doctor might recommend a procedure called trabeculectomy. In this type of eye surgery, the doctor creates a flap in the white part of eye to let more fluid drain out. About half of people who have this surgery don’t need glaucoma medicine anymore. But sometimes the opening closes again, and this requires the person to have a second surgery.
Protect your vision
About half of people with glaucoma don’t know they have it. To prevent vision loss, know your family history and other risks. Get an eye exam every 1 to 2 years. If your doctor tells you that you have glaucoma, follow his treatment directions carefully. Let him know about any changes in the way you see right away.
What to expect
Eyedrops, surgery, and other treatments can help you manage glaucoma and prevent you from losing your vision. You’ll need to keep up with your treatment throughout your life to keep your eye pressure in check. Your doctor will want you to see her for checkups a few times a year.
Adapted from webmd.com