Hearing that you may have a sight-threatening visual condition is scary to hear. So let’s better understand what glaucoma is and how you and your doctor can protect your vision. We’ll discuss what glaucoma is and how it is detected and diagnosed, and we’ll even discuss some front-line treatment options to give you peace of mind knowing what’s to come.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease where the optic nerve in the eye becomes damaged over time. Each eye has an optic nerve. This nerve acts like a cable sending information about what you see to the brain. This is just like a cable to your television. Without treatment, glaucoma causes vision loss. This vision loss is usually very slow. At first, the vision loss will be a loss of sensitivity in your peripheral vision. As the disease progresses, vision loss can be severe- as if you were looking through a Mcdonald’s straw. You may have heard that glaucoma is caused by high pressure inside the eye. While eye pressure does play a role in glaucoma diagnosis and treatment, you can have normal eye pressure and STILL have glaucoma.
How is glaucoma diagnosed?
Glaucoma is first suspected during a dilated eye exam. Next, your eye care provider will examine each optic nerve and evaluate the health of the nerves. If the nerve tissue appears thin or there are significant differences in appearance between the two optic nerves, your doctor may identify you as a glaucoma suspect. Family history and your eye pressure are also important indicators of your risk. Your race may also be considered; statistically speaking, Black /African-American people are more likely to have one type of glaucoma, whereas Asians are more likely to have another.
Once your doctor identifies you as suspicious for glaucoma, they will likely schedule you for baseline testing. This testing is not scary, painful, or invasive. You may repeat this testing several times over several years before being diagnosed with glaucoma, and there is also a chance that you will never develop glaucoma.
Most Common Tests to Monitor Glaucoma
- OCT: An OCT measures your optic nerve- both its diameter and thickness. The optic nerve is small, only about 2 mm in diameter. An OCT can measure the nerve down to the micron! This advanced technology allows your doctor to catch subtle, small changes in your nerves. For you, the OCT is just like taking a picture. You will rest your chin in a chin rest and look at a target- the technician will then ask you to hold your eyes wide open as they snap the photo.
- Visual Field: Ask any glaucoma patient, and this is the test that they dread. Not because it’s difficult but because it is BORING. A visual field test asks you to stare straight ahead at a target and press a button any time you detect a flash of light in your side vision. This test is usually a few minutes per eye. Some of the lights will be bright, and some will be dim; it is normal not to see all of the lights, so don’t panic if you think you missed one.
It can be tempting to fall asleep or look around during the test, but please do your very best to stay alert. This test gives your doctor valuable information to better care for your vision. Tips for the visual field? Schedule it when you’ve had plenty of sleep and will be alert, breathe and blink normally during the test.
If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, you absolutely want to know what can be done to preserve your vision. The thing to know about glaucoma treatment is that the focus is on lowering your eye pressure. Lowering the eye pressure is protective against further glaucoma damage. Your doctor will decide on a target eye pressure.
There are several prescription eye drops available to lower your eye pressure. Most of these eye drops have minimal side effects and are tolerated well- the side effect of one of these eye drops actually makes your eyelashes grow longer and thicker (talk about a perk!). You may have to try more than one eye drop or use multiple at once to slow the progression of your glaucoma. If eye drops are not for you, certain laser procedures are also available as first-line treatment options.
In many cases, vision loss can be avoided in glaucoma if you are consistent with your treatment schedule and keep your appointments with your eye doctor to monitor for progression. However, in some cases, eye drops and lasers may not be effective in lowering eye pressure sufficiently. Therefore, your doctor may recommend surgical options to reduce eye pressure.
To Wrap Up
Being a glaucoma suspect can feel like having a monkey on your back! The best thing you can do is make sure you keep your appointments with your eye doctor and repeat your glaucoma testing at regular intervals as your doctor recommends. The doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida can assist you with your glaucoma needs and other eye health issues; call us today at 800-282-3937 to schedule an appointment.
Bio. Dr. Courtney Beaumont is a Board-Certified Optometrist who practices at the Lakeland-Highlands location for Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida. She is currently accepting new patients.
This column is sponsored by Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or of its advertisers.