January is the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Glaucoma Awareness Month, and while glaucoma isn’t exactly our wheelhouse at Cornea Associates of Texas, we never underestimate the importance of glaucoma care in terms of preserving a patient’s vision.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can potentially damage the optic nerve and eventually cause vision loss or blindness. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting sensory input from the photoreceptors to the brain. The space between the underside of our corneas (the clear “windshield” of the eye) and the front of the iris (colored part of the eye) is called the anterior chamber. The anterior chamber is full of a clear fluid called aqueous humor that nourishes the surrounding tissue by continuously flowing through the elaborate mesh work at the angle where the iris and cornea meet in the periphery of the anterior chamber. When fluid reaches this angle, it can sometimes flow too slowly causing the anterior chamber to retain too much fluid which can increase the pressure inside the eye. When intraocular pressure is continuously elevated for an extensive period of time, damage to the optic nerve can occur. Since the optic nerve is responsible for transmitting electrical impulses our brains interpret as images, loss of optic nerve function equates to loss of vision.
The most common type of glaucoma is “primary open-angle glaucoma,” which occurs when the fluid doesn’t drain as well as it should, as described above; imagine a clogged sink and how it might be especially slow to drain. The other type of glaucoma is “closed-angle-” or “narrow-angle glaucoma.” This develops when the patient’s iris is particularly close to the drainage angle of the eye and the iris blocks the drainage angle; imagine a piece of paper sliding over a sink drain. When that drainage angle is complete obstructed or “closed,” eye pressure elevates extremely quickly in what’s known as an “acute attack,” and requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of an acute attack include:
Sudden blurred vision
Severe eye pain
Rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights
This type of glaucoma can be slow to develop and is then referred to as “chronic angle-closure glaucoma.” Left untreated, this can lead to permanent blindness.
While we at Cornea Associates spend the majority of our time addressing corneal and cataract complaints, we understand that without a healthy, functioning optic nerve a patient’s visual prognosis may be extremely poor regardless of how clear a lens implant or corneal transplant may be.
Recognize your risks factors. Patient’s with a family history of glaucoma; members of the African American, Latinx, and Asian communities; diabetics; and patients on certain medications are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma in their lifetime. Annual check ups and dilated exams are essential for treating and preventing glaucoma.