What Causes Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually damage the optic nerve at the back of the eye. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying visual information from the eye to the brain so you can see. 

Glaucoma typically has no symptoms in its early stages. So without timely detection and prompt treatment, damage to the optic nerve can lead to permanent vision loss.

Keep reading to learn more about glaucoma, its causes, and the available treatment options!

What Causes Glaucoma?

Often, glaucoma is caused by an increase in your eye pressure, also known as intraocular pressure or IOP, which can cause damage to the optic nerve. Your eye constantly produces a clear fluid known as the aqueous humor.

The aqueous humor nourishes your eye and maintains your eye shape. It then leaves your eye through the drainage angle.

If there’s any blockage in your drainage angle, the rate at which your eye produces the aqueous humor becomes greater than the rate at which it can drain it, leading to high intraocular pressure. A buildup of pressure in your eyes damages the optic nerve causing permanent vision changes.

At the same time, some people can have high intraocular pressure without glaucoma, a condition called ocular hypertension. Others can also develop glaucoma even with normal eye pressure. 

Certain factors can increase your risk of getting glaucoma. They include:

  • Being age forty and older
  • Previous eye injury or surgery
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroids
  • Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
  • Some health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, sickle cell anemia, and heart disease

What Are the Types of Glaucoma?

There are many types of glaucoma. Some examples are:

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form. It happens your eye’s drainage canals become blocked or clogged, and fluid is unable to leave the eye at a consistent and healthy rate.

As a result, fluid drains very slowly through the trabecular meshwork, gradually increasing your eye pressure. The trabecular meshwork comprises small channels where the aqueous humor flows out of your eye.

There are typically not many obvious symptoms of open-angle glaucoma in the beginning stages. For this reason, it’s important to get regular eye exams so the condition can be detected early.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Also called closed-angle glaucoma, this form of glaucoma occurs when the angle of your eye, which is an area the fluid has to flow through before exiting the eye, is closed off. Angle-closure glaucoma is less common and can happen suddenly. 

The drainage angle is where your iris and sclera, the white of your eye, meet. Sometimes, the iris can block the drainage angle and prevent fluid from draining properly, increasing your eye pressure. 

If you have symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma, seek treatment immediately. Left untreated, angle-closure glaucoma can cause permanent vision loss.

Some common symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma are redness, severe headache or brow ache, blurred vision, eye pain, and nausea or vomiting.

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

In normal-tension glaucoma, the optic nerve becomes damaged when your eye pressure is within the normal range. Many times, this means that your eye pressure is still too high for your individual eyes. 

What Are the Treatment Options for Glaucoma?

In many cases, the treatment method will depend on the type of glaucoma and its severity. While glaucoma doesn’t have a cure, treatment can slow or stop its progression. 

The treatment options for glaucoma include:

Medicated Eye Drops

The first line of treatment for glaucoma is usually prescription eye drops. Eye drops work by either increasing the outflow of fluid from your eye or reducing the amount of fluid produced by your eye. 

Some eye drops are able to do both. Decreasing the amount of fluid in your eye slows optic nerve damage and limits vision loss.

Laser Treatment

Your eye doctor may recommend laser treatment if eye drops don’t adequately lower your eye pressure. There are various types of laser procedures.

An iridotomy uses a laser to create tiny holes in your iris. These holes let the fluid drain more easily from your eye.

Another laser procedure used to treat glaucoma is selective laser trabeculoplasty, or SLT. During SLT, your eye doctor uses a laser to open clogged drainage canals in the trabecular meshwork. 

Removing the obstructions using a laser allows the aqueous humor to drain easily once again.

Glaucoma Surgery

Glaucoma surgery is necessary in advanced cases or when other treatment methods do not work to lower your eye pressure. Your eye doctor at Sierra Nevada Eye Center can also recommend surgery if eye drops cause serious side effects.

One type of glaucoma surgery is trabeculectomy. Trabeculectomy is a procedure done to create a new pathway in the sclera. The new path lets fluid leave your eye, which lowers your intraocular pressure and prevents vision loss from worsening.

At Sierra Nevada Eye Center, we are proud to offer minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries or MIGS. MIGSs are procedures that use microscopic equipment and tiny incisions to decrease your eye pressure in order to minimize or prevent optic nerve damage.

There are different types of MIGS procedures, including Kahook Dual Blade, iStent Inject, OMNI GATT, and Hydrus microstent. If you have mild to moderate glaucoma, MIGS can be a good option. 

The goal of MIGS procedures is to lower intraocular pressure in the following ways:

  • Reducing the production of the aqueous humor
  • Improving the eye’s natural drainage system
  • Redirecting excess fluid outside of your eye.

Protect Your Sight from Glaucoma

Glaucoma can sneak in without any warning signs and rob you of your sight. Luckily it’s treatable if caught early through regular eye exams at Sierra Nevada Eye Center.

Do you want to learn more about glaucoma or determine if you might be at risk of developing the condition? Schedule an appointment at Sierra Nevada Eye Center in Reno, NV, today!

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