Glaucoma is a group of ocular diseases that create damage to the fragile optic nerve in the back of each eye. With early detection and treatment, damage to the optic nerves can be slowed significantly.
It is known that the intraocular pressure (IOP) inside the front of your eyes is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. The front chamber of the eye, known as the anterior chamber, contains clear fluid that flows continuously in and out of the chamber. This fluid exits the chamber in an area where the cornea (front of the eye) and iris (colored part of your eye) meet. When fluid reaches this area, known as the angle, it flows through a porous meshwork.
The easiest way to conceptualize this is to think of your eye as a sink, in which the faucet is turned on and the drain is open. The fluid inside the eye, called aqueous humor, is continuously flowing through the anterior chamber. If this drain becomes clogged, aqueous cannot exit the eye as fast as it is being produced, and this causes the fluid to back up similar to if a drain was clogged in a sink. But because the eye is a contained system, it doesn’t have a way to handle the overflow, and this causes the pressure inside of the anterior chamber to increase to levels higher than it should.
In most instances, elevated IOP is not felt and is completely asymptomatic. This underscores the importance of routine eye examinations with your local optometrist or eye surgeon for early detection and management of glaucoma.
As the pressure builds, the eye has to “give” somewhere, and this happens at its weakest point, which is at the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the nerve tissue inside the eye that transmits what the eye sees to the brain. If optic nerve cells become compressed due to the high pressure, they will eventually die and create an irreversible loss of vision.
Not all glaucomas are a result of elevated IOP, and in fact there are many individuals that exhibit glaucomatous changes to their optic nerves but have what used to be considered relatively normal IOPs. The disease of glaucoma is considered multifactorial, meaning that there are many different causes to it that are not clearly understood at this time. There are numerous studies, however, that have repeatedly demonstrated that elevated IOP is one of the most significant risk factors for the disease.
There are painless and non-invasive tests that can be done to monitor the progression of glaucoma in addition to checking IOP. Missouri Eye Institute employs the most advanced technology available to measure the depth of specific layers of the retina that would be affected by glaucoma. Additionally, Missouri Eye Institute conducts visual field examinations to specifically map out the field of vision in each eye. There are specific patterns of changes that occur with glaucoma, and these can be determined in each patient and monitored routinely for change or stabilization. Depending upon all of these measured tests, a treatment plan is devised to treat the disease and slow down its progression. Potential treatments can include eyedrop medications, laser procedures, microstents, or other surgeries to ultimately decrease the IOP in the affected eye(s) and slow progression of glaucoma. Your eye doctor at Missouri Eye Institute will discuss these options with you in greater detail and tailor a treatment plan that is specific to your individual needs.