By The Eye Center at Southwest Health
January is National Glaucoma Month, a time to spread awareness about this condition that puts pressure on the part of the eye that provides information to the brain, the optic nerve. If untreated, glaucoma can eventually cause total blindness. While it is a common condition, regular testing and eye exams can help providers discover glaucoma before severe damage occurs.
There are many different types of glaucoma, but all create intense pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma slowly damages the optic nerve over a lifetime and the exact cause is unknown but most often occurs in people over 40 and people with a family history of glaucoma. Before treating glaucoma, your provider will need to determine what kind of glaucoma is developing. Because glaucoma is a progressive disease, worsening over time, Ophthalmologists look for a change in the appearance of the optic nerve, loss of nerve tissue, and a corresponding loss of vision before confirming the glaucoma diagnosis. From this comprehensive exam, there are four different categories providers may place patients in:
- If patients have no apparent changes but are still expected to develop glaucoma, they are diagnosed as a ‘glaucoma suspect.’
- If patients only have changes to their OCT exam, an imaging test that looks at cross-sections of the eye, they are categorized as ‘mild glaucoma.’
- If patients have any peripheral vision changes, they are labeled as ‘moderate glaucoma.’
- If patients change in either the top or bottom of their vision, providers call that ‘severe glaucoma.’
The goal in treating glaucoma is to lower the pressure on the optic nerve, and many factors determine how low a person’s eye pressure should be to address glaucoma-related symptoms. Some people need their eye pressure to be shallow, while others can tolerate very high eye pressure with no problems. Every person is unique and has a different healthy eye pressure. A glaucoma provider will consider a few other criteria to make the correct diagnosis:
- Family history, personal medical history, and current medications
- Details of the eye including cornea thickness, the shape of the eye, and optic nerve
- Eye pressure
- The current health of the optic nerve
- The life expectancy of the person
When providers start the process of treating glaucoma and have a complete understanding of the patient-specific eye pressure needs, there are a few different modes of treatment, starting with medicated eye drops. A provider may determine that medication or surgery is necessary. While there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and treatment can preserve vision.
As glaucoma care continues, a provider will develop more information for the patient and create a trajectory of where the condition is heading. If it looks like glaucoma could get worse and negatively affect vision, your provider can change the target eye pressure and change the treatment. If you have any questions about your eye health or think you may have glaucoma, please do not hesitate to contact the Eye Center at Southwest Health at (608) 342-2020. We have four convenient Eye Center locations in Platteville, both at our hospital and McGregor Plaza, Darlington, and Lancaster.