What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness. Sometimes called the silent thief of sight, glaucoma can damage your vision so gradually you don’t notice any loss of vision until the disease is at an advanced stage. Vision experts believe that half of those affected by glaucoma may not know it, since there are usually no symptoms in its early stages. By the time an individual notices something is wrong, the disease has already caused considerable damage. Vision lost to glaucoma cannot be regained. Although there is no cure, medications and surgery can help slow the disease’s progression.
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that lead to damage of the optic nerve (the bundle of nerve fibers that carries information from the eye to the brain), which can then lead to vision loss and possibly blindness. Optic nerve damage usually occurs in the presence of high eye (intraocular) pressure.
Types of Glaucoma
There are many types of glaucoma, but the two most common types are open-angle glaucoma and closed-angle (angle-closure) glaucoma.
- Open-angle glaucoma, (also called primary open-angle glaucoma and chronic glaucoma) accounts for 90 percent of all glaucoma cases and occurs when the trabecular meshwork becomes blocked and the fluid can’t get to the normal drainage canals. This blockage results in fluid build-up and intraocular pressure. The fluid build-up happens gradually.
- Closed-angle glaucoma, (also called acute glaucoma or angle closure glaucoma), accounts for about 9 percent of all glaucoma cases and occurs when the opening between the cornea and iris narrows, such that the fluid cannot get to the trabecular meshwork and normal drainage channels. This narrowing results in fluid build-up and intraocular pressure. The fluid build-up happens very quickly.
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Am I At risk of getting Glaucoma?
People at highest risk are those with any of the following:
- Age older than 40
- African-American race
- Family members who have (or had) the disease
- Farsightedness or nearsightedness
- Long-term use of corticosteroid drugs
- Previous eye injury
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a slow progressing eye disease. These are symptoms one may encounter as it progresses:
- Tiny blind spots appear at the edges of the visual field (peripheral or side vision) that slowly get larger and spread
- Blurred vision
- The appearance of colored halos around lights
- Adjustment problems on entering a dark room
- Repeated difficulties that new eyeglass prescriptions do not help
- Peripheral (side) vision is decreasing
- The symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma are:
- Severely blurred vision
- Severe eye and head pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- The appearance of rainbow-colored halos around bright lights
- Rapid loss of vision
Laser Treatment For Glaucoma
A common laser treatment for glaucoma is called selective laser trabeculoplasty, or SLT. Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) is becoming a widely accepted treatment option in glaucoma treatment. SLT definitely offers a new glimpse of hope for glaucoma patients. SLT lowers the pressure in your eye which may reduce the necessity of more invasive surgery. SLT might even reduce the dependence on medications or drops. The surgical process typically involves numbing the eye with topical eye drops so that you will not feel the laser treatment. In SLT, laser treatment is applied to the drain of your eye in order to open it up and let fluid out, lowering the eye pressure and saving your sight. SLT treatment takes only a few minutes, is performed in the office (not the operating room), is safe, and effectively lowers eye pressure in most people. The treatment is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating glaucoma and is covered by essentially all insurance plans. After the procedure, anti-inflammatory drops are used.
How does SLT Work?
SLT actually lowers (IOP) intraocular pressure by creating relatively small pulsing low-energy laser light to target cells in the trabecular mesh system of the eye.
Candidates for Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty
People who might benefit from SLT are described below. If any of these descriptions apply to you, ask your doctor if SLT is right for you.
- Eye pressure not controlled despite using one or more eye drop medications—If you have tried several medications and your eye pressure is still not under control, SLT may be the next step.
- Inability to tolerate eye drop medications—Some people have medical problems that make using eye drop medications unsafe; others may be allergic to the preservatives in bottles of eye drop medications.
- Inability to put eye drop medications in your eyes—If you have arthritis, or tremor, or very poor vision, you might not be able to put the drops in your eye.
- Frequently forgetting to use your eye drop medications—If you often forget to put your drops in, your eye pressure may be going up and down a lot; these fluctuations in eye pressure can make glaucoma worse.
- Inability to afford your eye drop medications—Many people have insurance that will cover SLT but will not cover medications. If you cannot afford your medications, SLT might be a more cost-effective way to control your glaucoma.
- Desire to reduce the number of eye drop medications you are using—If your eye pressure is controlled but you require several eye drop medications to keep it controlled, SLT might allow you to reduce the number of medications you are using for eye pressure.
- Desire to avoid starting eye drop medication therapy—If you have just been diagnosed with glaucoma, you may prefer to avoid eye drop medications entirely. SLT may help you accomplish this.