Glaucoma is a progressive disease that can lead to blindness if undetected. A low-down on the disease, its symptoms, and the role optometrists can play in its treatment
Vision is one aspect of our body that should be taken care of as routinely as, say, the skin. But, our only connect with ‘vision care’ is when there is conjunctivitis or difficulty in reading or watching TV. Unfortunately, other ailments that might be slowly and insidiously making their way into the eyes may be totally ignored till such time that it becomes too late. Like Glaucoma – an eye disease that might strike one after 40 and lead to blindness if unattended.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition that is characterised by the damage of the optic nerve. This damage is caused when the pressure in the eye is high. This happens when there is not enough easy movement of fluid in the anterior chamber of the eye. This fluid, called aqueous humor, flows into the eyes through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, the flow of aqueous humor is hampered, thereby causing the pressure to rise.
Correct and timely diagnosis of the disease can arrest its progress and thereby stop further damage to the optic nerve. Important to remember here is that glaucoma is also hereditary. Alternatively, if the person is diabetic or has other eye-related issues, glaucoma can make an appearance and create havoc.
Different Kinds Of Glaucoma
There are several kinds of glaucoma, but the two most talked of are Open-angle Glaucoma and Narrow-angle or Angle-closure Glaucoma. There is a drainage angle inside the eye (the mesh) that controls the outflow of the watery fluid. If the fluid can access the drainage angle, it is called Open-angle Glaucoma. If the drainage angle is blocked and the fluid cannot reach the angle, it is called Narrow-angle Glaucoma.
Open-angle Glaucoma first affects the peripheral vision. There are not too many other symptoms. But by the time you realise this, the vision has been damaged considerably. Angle-closure Glaucoma is lesser known as it affects lesser number of people. However, Angle-closure Glaucoma develops rapidly, creates a more dramatic picture and demands immediate medical attention.
Symptoms Of Glaucoma
It is unfortunate that there are no obvious symptoms of Open-angle Glaucoma. The disease progresses over a period of time. As the peripheral vision gets affected first, the direct vision remains clear and undisturbed for a long time. But symptoms of Angle-closure Glaucoma are pretty strong. Hazy or blurred vision; the appearance of rainbow-coloured circles around bright lights; severe eye and head pain; nausea or vomiting (accompanying severe eye pain); sudden sight loss. Needless to say, immediate medical aid is required.
As a general eye-health care and precaution process, there are a few things to watch out for: unusual trouble adjusting to dark rooms; difficulty focusing on near or distant objects; squinting or blinking due to unusual sensitivity to light or glare; change in colour of iris; red-rimmed, encrusted or swollen lids; recurrent pain in or around eyes; double vision; dark spot at the centre of viewing; lines and edges appear distorted or wavy; excess tearing or ‘watery eyes’; dry eyes with itching or burning; and seeing spots, ghost-like images.
While the symptoms listed above do not necessarily mean that one has glaucoma, these definitely call for a complete eye check-up.
Prevention Of Glaucoma
The best way to prevent glaucoma is by keeping a vigil on the disease. In many, glaucoma could be a result of a family history of the disease or diabetes or sometimes because of a country of origin, like Africans are supposed to be more susceptible to glaucoma.
There is just one basic thumb rule that one needs to follow for the prevention of glaucoma – regular eye-check ups. Ideally, till one touches 40, every two years, and thereafter every year.
Treatment Of Glaucoma
The treatment of glaucoma can be done either through medicines, or laser or surgery. Medication includes eye drops and pills. This alters the circulation of the eye fluid and lowers eye pressure. But glaucoma medication has side-effects and so regular consultation with ophthalmologist is required. Sometimes operative surgery is also recommended.
Role Of Optometrists
Glaucoma check-up is included during the routine eye examinations. Therefore, even the optometrists play an important role in detecting the symptoms.
Some optic nerves have a suspicious appearance, resembling glaucoma, but the patients may have no other signs. Similarly a patient with normal appearance of optic disc might have raised intraocular pressure and could have other contributing factors making him a glaucoma suspect. As for the detection, a patient should be willing to undergo comprehensive exams to monitor change. In addition to checking the family history, the optometrist is also able to examine the extent of damage within the eye.
The bottom line for glaucoma though is regular eye check-up to try and nip the disease even as it makes its first appearance.