Any individual who has received a comprehensive eye exam and is over the age of 30 has probably heard of an eye disease referred to as glaucoma. This disease blocks the passages which allow fluid to flow inside of your eyes at all times. It can cause the fluid to build up around your eye, which creates pressure that can press against the optic nerve and lead to vision loss or other ocular damage. Laser surgery for glaucoma is the first treatment option available outside of glaucoma medication. This procedure helps restore vision and remove the pressure as a solution to glaucoma.
How do You Know If You Have Glaucoma?
Understanding the causes and diagnosis of glaucoma is important at any age. This vision problem is the second leading cause of blindness. It is one of several conditions that directly damage the optic nerve. Early detection of the disease is essential for stopping its progress and successfully treating it. For some patients, glaucoma may not produce any symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that over 4 million Americans do not even know that they have glaucoma. There are several symptoms which any individual should be aware of and a few that are critical enough to seek immediate medical care.
The signs and symptoms of glaucoma will vary depending on the stage of the disease for you and also the type of glaucoma which you have.
- Open-Angle Gluacoma: Symptoms for this disease include patchy blind spots peripheral or in central vision. You may experience it frequently in one or both eyes. It is also common to experience tunnel vision if your glaucoma is in one of the advanced stages.
- Acute Angle- Closure Glaucoma: The symptoms associated with this type of glaucoma are easier to recognize because they include eye pain, nausea, blurred vision, halos around lights, eye redness, severe headaches, and vomiting.
Seek immediate attention from an ophthalmologist if you experience any of the symptoms associated with acute angle closure glaucoma. Roughly 15% of people who have glaucoma will eventually go blind in at least one eye during their lifetime.
Common Laser Surgeries to Treat Glaucoma
While there are prescription medications to treat early stages of glaucoma, many people consider laser surgery for glaucoma. The laser process involves using a small light beam to drain fluid from the eye. This helps decrease the high pressure. Laser surgery is an outpatient procedure and can be completed on one or both eyes. There are a few types of common options for this procedure.
- Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT): This option is available to those patients with open-angle glaucoma. During the procedure, a low level laser is used to selectively treat specific cells of the optic nerve. This procedure is most common and can be repeated safely.
- Argon Laser Trabeculoplasty (ALT): Another option for primary open angle glaucoma treatment is the argon laser trabeculoplasty surgery. This outpatient procedure involves using a laser beam to open the fluid channels which are part of the optic system. The process improves drainage and will still require patients to take medication afterward.
- Micropulse Laser Trabeculoplasty (MLT): The difference in this procedure from the other two used to treat open angle glaucoma is in the way the laser operates. A diode laser is used to provide microbursts of light to the area that needs to be corrected. This laser surgery for glaucoma is still relatively new but has positive results.
- Laser Peripheral Iridotomy (LPI): Individuals suffering with narrow angle glaucoma can have this procedure performed. Narrow angle glaucoma is caused when the space between the iris and cornea is small and leads to a blockage on the fluid draining around the eye. With LPI, patients receive relief from a small hole created in the iris by the laser which leads to drainage.
- Laser Cyclophotocoagulation: The previous procedures are all designed for treating later stage glaucoma. In the earlier stages, aside from medication, this laser treatment can be an option. It involves using several small lasers to dampen the body's ability to make fluid which results in lower eye pressure. It can safely be repeated to keep glaucoma under control.
How Effective Is the Surgery?
Laser surgery for glaucoma is extremely effective, and many patients recover quickly. Most patients are able to see immediately after surgery, but may experience minor swelling or an itchy feeling that goes away within 24 to 48 hours. During this time frame, your eyes may be sensitive to light and you may have some blurry vision. It takes roughly 4 weeks for the eye pressure to be completely eliminated around your eye and your vision to heal. Glaucoma medications are typically prescribed in your post-surgery plan.
There are a few risks of laser surgery, which your doctor will discuss with you, based on your medical history. It is important to understand that this type of procedure does not necessarily work for both glaucoma types. When you meet with ophthalmologists regarding your eye condition, they will provide you with the available treatment options. Treatments can include things such as medications, eye drops, or surgery. If a person experiences vision loss from glaucoma, it usually cannot be recovered, even with surgery.
Factors that contribute to whether or not the procedure will work for you include the structure of your eye, the type of glaucoma you have, previous surgery history, high blood pressure, diabetes, and age. Your doctor can help you to decide the best course of action for your glaucoma.
Can It Be Prevented?
Being proactive about things you can do to prevent serious eye condition such as glaucoma is important. There are a few simple things which any individual can do to help this process.
The first is a regular comprehensive eye exam. Glaucoma testing is not automatically completed by an optometrist. However, if you have a family history, then screening may start as early as 25 years old, every few years. For most individuals with vision impairments, an exam is completed every four years starting at the age of 40.
In your everyday life, be sure to take precautions when doing things like exercise. If you’re doing activities that could harm your eyes, be sure to wear protection. Lastly, always take any prescribed eye drops or medications offered by your physician to treat glaucoma during the early stages. This will prevent the disorder from progressing.