Glaucoma is a debilitating disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness, in fact, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60. However, with effective early treatment, the risk of blindness occurring decreases dramatically.
In order to understand whether you should pursue treatment for glaucoma, it’s important to both understand the disease and its possible treatments. If you’re considering seeking treatment for your glaucoma read further to learn about all the benefits and risks of treatment.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma usually occurs when fluid accumulates in the front part of the eye. The extra fluid then puts pressure on your eye causing damage in the optic nerve. There are two major types of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, and closed-angle glaucoma.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma that people suffer from. This form of glaucoma happens slowly over time and is caused by the failure of the eye to properly drain fluid. Essentially your eye begins to behave like a clogged drain, resulting in pressure build up in the eye and optic nerve damage. Usually, this form of glaucoma is painless and presents no vision problems initially.
Closed-angle glaucoma occurs when the iris of the eye is too close to the drainage angle of the eye. This results in the iris blocking the drainage angle causing fluid build up. If the drainage angle becomes completely blocked, eye pressure rises quickly and results in what’s called an acute attack. Should this happen, you should call an eye-doctor right away as this is a sign of oncoming blindness.
Signs that you are suffering from an acute attack include:
- Sudden vision blurriness
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Rainbow coloured rings or halos surrounding lights
While acute attacks are severe, many people with closed-angle glaucoma develop it slowly over time. Because this form of glaucoma can take a while to present itself, many people don’t know they have it until the damage is severe or an attack occurs.
What are the Potential Treatments for Glaucoma?
There are many possible treatments for glaucoma. Some methods are easier and more convenient than others, but the overall goal is the same; prevent blindness. Vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible, however, glaucoma is treatable if detected early. Which is why it’s important to have regular eye exams.
The most common treatment methods for glaucoma include eye drops, pills/medication, laser or traditional surgery. Each treatment has potential risks and side effects, so patients need to be fully aware of possible negative effects they may be experiencing after treatment and discuss them with their doctor. In some instances, a combination of treatment methods may be more effective than one method alone.
- Eye Drops
Eye drops are a common form of treatment for glaucoma. Patients administer the eye drops on a regularly prescribed pattern like common medication. It’s imperative that you follow your eye drop prescription exactly as directed. Eye drops are absorbed into the bloodstream and thus can mix with other medications you might be taking. Talk with your doctor about any other medications you are currently taking and ask about the safety of mixing eye drops with your medications.
In some instances, pills will also be prescribed along with eye drops. Pills help decrease the amount of fluid being produced within the eye, thus lessening the pressure build up behind the eye.
- Laser and Traditional Surgery
Although long-term success rates vary with laser surgery, it’s becoming an increasingly popular method of treatment. A trabeculoplasty is a procedure performed for those suffering from open-angle glaucoma. This procedure is used as an intermediary between medication and traditional surgery. It takes 10 to 15 minutes to perform, can be performed by a doctor or in an outpatient facility and is generally painless.
Recovery from laser eye surgery is quick, in fact, most patients are able to return home after surgery and resume their normal daily activities. Laser procedure works well enough that many people don’t have to move on to traditional surgery afterwards.
Traditional surgery, also known as trabeculectomy, is used when medication and laser surgery don’t work. In this procedure, a surgeon creates a passage in the sclera in order to drain excess fluid.
The Benefits of Treating Glaucoma
The obvious first benefit of treating your glaucoma is not losing your vision. But there are other benefits of treating glaucoma, especially with surgery. While most treatments have there fair share of side effects and potential risks, these are relatively low compared with the risks associated with surgery.
Experts suggest that the benefits of this form of treatment typically outweigh the risks, especially with advanced cases. While glaucoma surgery has a high success rate, it is still important to discuss with your doctor all the benefits and risks of your particular surgery.
After surgery, about 50 per cent of patients don’t require medications for a significant amount of time. Approximately 35 to 40 per cent of patients will still require medication but will have better control over eye fluid drainage. On rare occasions, some patients have reported improved vision after surgery, though that is not the case for everyone. In most cases, the damage that has occurred as a result of glaucoma is considered irreversible.
Are There Serious Risks Associated with Glaucoma Treatment?
While the benefits may outweigh the risks, there are still some side effects to concern yourself with before undergoing surgery. First, vision loss, its common for surgery to temporarily disrupt your vision. In some instances, vision can be reduced permanently after surgery. However, vision loss is not commonly permanent after glaucoma surgery.
Another risk of surgery is bleeding. Usually, this is caused by a complication of surgery, but sometimes bleeding inside the eye can occur. This is a very serious side effect and you should consult your eye doctor immediately if you begin experiencing this symptom.
Infection is another risk, although eye doctors intend to keep a sterile and clean environment, infections can occur. Infection is serious and can seriously damage your vision if left untreated. Keep in mind that infections can occur even years after surgery, so if you begin to show early signs of an infection (pain, redness, swelling) contact your eye-doctor in order to treat it before it becomes too serious.
Commonly, scarring is a side-effect of glaucoma eye surgery. Over time, due to the natural healing properties of the eye, scarring can occur and increase eye pressure again. If the scarring is too severe you may need to begin your treatments again starting with medication and possibly have to undergo surgery again.
Although these risks are serious, they are not common with glaucoma eye surgery. As most experts suggest, the benefits of treating your glaucoma will always be better than leaving it left untreated.