Globally, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness (behind cataracts), according to the World Health Organization. Glaucoma can damage your sight so gradually that you may not notice any loss of vision until the disease is at an advanced stage. Glaucoma often is called the “silent thief of sight,” because most types typically cause no pain and produce no symptoms until noticeable vision loss occurs.
For this reason, glaucoma often progresses undetected until the optic nerve has been irreversibly damaged, with varying degrees of permanent vision loss. If untreated or uncontrolled, glaucoma first causes peripheral vision loss and eventually can lead to blindness.
Open-angle glaucoma is three times more likely to affect African-Americans, compared with non-Hispanic whites in the United States, and blindness from glaucoma is at least six times more prevalent among African-Americans than non-Hispanic whites. Studies also suggest open-angle glaucoma affects Hispanics and Latinos at comparable rates to African-Americans.
Glaucoma is an eye condition that develops when too much fluid pressure builds up inside of the eye. This increase in eye pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.
There are two main types of glaucoma:
Glaucoma is typically treated with eye drops that decrease eye pressure by either slowing the amount of fluid produced within the eye or by improving the flow through the drainage angle.
Laser surgery treatments may be recommended for glaucoma for several reasons even in the early stages of glaucoma. Your eye doctor will discuss which treatment options are best for you.
SLT (Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty): This procedure is the latest in laser treatment for open-angle glaucoma and may be recommended by our glaucoma specialist at Precision Eye Care and Albemarle Eye Center. SLT uses pulses of low energy laser light to target and shrink certain areas of the eye drainage system. This reduces pressure within the eye that could cause damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision. The procedure is less invasive to the eye than other glaucoma laser procedures and traditional glaucoma filtration surgery. Patients that have already been treated with other laser procedures can be treated with SLT. SLT is a painless procedure and requires no injections or needles. It takes approximately 10-15 minutes once the patient’s eye has been completely prepared for the procedure. Patients may experience seeing flashes of bright green or red light during the procedure, as the laser beam of light is reflected into the eye, and mild soreness and/or swelling inside the eye. Most patients resume normal activities right away.
Serious complications with SLT are extremely rare, but like any surgical procedure, it does have some risks. These risks are minimum and our doctors and staff are very experienced with the SLT procedure.
Trabeculoplasty: This procedure is used to treat the most common type of glaucoma – primary open angle glaucoma – in which the drainage canals of the eye no longer function properly. Using a beam, the eye doctor modifies the drainage canal, allowing the fluids to effectively drain and to help control eye pressure.
Iridotomy: This type of treatment is primarily used on patients with a narrow-angle or closed-angle problem in which the iris blocks normal fluid drainage. The eye doctor uses an instrument to create a tiny hole in the iris, effectively restoring normal drainage.
Vision loss can be prevented.
Regular medical eye exams can help prevent unnecessary vision loss. Because there are usually no symptoms of glaucoma in the early stages, people at any age with risk factors for glaucoma - such as those with diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, or those of African descent – should see an eye care professional for an exam. Your ophthalmologist will let you know how often to return for follow-up exams.