Thursday, May 10, 2012

So What Exactly Is Glaucoma?

What a patient would see with moderately advanced glaucoma

Glaucoma is a disease that can cause vision to be permanently lost very slowly over time. The disease starts by enlarging an individual’s “blind spot,” then may progress leading to complete blindness. Glaucoma is sometimes referred to as “the silent thief of sight” because a typical person would have absolutely no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, and would only notice after it was too late and the damage was done.
The disease essentially attacks the optic nerve in the back of the eye. Typically high pressure inside of the eye - the Intra Ocular Pressure, or IOP - causes this damage. The number one risk factor for glaucoma is a family history of the disease, but glaucoma may affect anyone.
As with most diseases of the body, the earlier the findings are caught, the more we are able to do. With modern medicine, it is rare that any new case of early glaucoma caught progresses past the “early” stage.

How Do I Know if I am at Risk or Have Glaucoma?

No drops or air puff to measure pressure!
Annual eye exams. Many eye doctors today are equipped with advanced instruments that allow us to catch the earliest signs of elevated eye pressures and damage to the optic nerve. Carillon Vision Care has multiple instruments to check the pressure, and has the most advanced optic nerve imaging instrument available: the Optical Coherence Tomographer, or OCT.
The OCT technology measures every attribute of an optic nerve in micrometers (one-thousandth of a millimeter!). This allows us to know ABSOLUTELY if any damage is present.

I Am Told I am a “Glaucoma Suspect.” What is That?

A Glaucoma Suspect is a medical diagnosis. This typically means that there is either high eye pressures with no optic nerve damage, or the optic nerve looks suspicious for possible damage. A Glaucoma Suspect may never actually go on to develop the disease, but we watch these patients very carefully. Treatment is initiated only when we are certain that there is early damage.

Okay, I Have Glaucoma. How is it Treated?

OCT Images
A number of ways. The first line of treatment is typically to lower the eye pressure by using prescription eye drops. Usually 1 drop once per day is enough.
Our doctors carefully review all of the new research to make sure we use only the best type of medication for each particular patient. The very first generic glaucoma medication came out a year ago, Latanoprost. All other brand name glaucoma medications are very expensive. All of the 1 year published studies on Latanoprost confirm the medicine is just as effective as the name brand, and our doctors have a number of glaucoma patients responding very well to this new formulation.
Stages of glaucoma
When these drops are not enough to lower the pressure, there are a group of simple laser surgeries that are effective for most patients. These lasers essentially increase the drainage channels inside the eye helping lower the pressure.
The take home message here is preventative care. If you or a loved one does not require corrective lenses and has not been in for an eye exam for a while, the time is now. If you would like more information on Glaucoma, or any other common eye disease, check out

Dr. Andrew Neukirch is the CEO of Carillon Vision Care located in Glenview, IL
Sources: Merk Manual “Glaucoma,” Jack Kanski’s “Clinical Ohpthalmology,” and