Glaucoma is the second most common cause of vision loss in seniors in Canada. More than 250,000 Canadians have chronic open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and can get worse over time if not treated. It is characterized by the slow progressive neurodegeneration of retinal ganglion cells and their axons resulting in irreversible visual sensitivity loss. If not treated, it can lead to blindness.
The exact cause and mechanism of glaucoma is not fully understood. There seems to be some level of mechanical compression (high intraocular pressure) and/or decreased blood flow to the optic nerve. Although high eye pressure sometimes leads to glaucoma, many people can also develop glaucoma with a “normal” eye pressure.
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. However, certain groups are at higher risk than others.
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over age 60
- African and Hispanic population
- Having a family history of the condition
- Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure
- High myopia (nearsightedness)
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
- Thin cornea
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time
Glaucoma usually has very few or no initial symptoms. Glaucoma often is called the “silent thief of sight,” because most types typically cause no pain and produce no symptoms until noticeable vision loss occurs. Vision loss due to glaucoma can’t be recovered. Early detection, through regular and complete eye exams, is the key to protecting your vision from damage caused by glaucoma. If it is recognized early, vision loss can be slowed or prevented.
Your eye doctor has a variety of diagnostic tools which aid in determining whether or not you have glaucoma — even before you have any symptoms. These tests includes:
- Measuring intraocular pressure (tonometry)
- Testing for optic nerve damage (ophthalmoscopy)
- Highly sophisticated imaging technology (OCT, HRT)
- Checking for areas of vision loss (visual field test)
- Measuring corneal thickness (pachymetry)
- Inspecting the drainage angle (gonioscopy)
Treatment of glaucoma will depend on the severity and progress of the disease. It cannot be cured, but rather controlled. It often starts with prescription eye drops. These can help decrease eye pressure. If eye drops alone don’t bring your eye pressure down to the desired level, your doctor may also prescribe an oral medication. Laser surgery is also an effective way to control glaucoma and maintain your remaining vision. In more complicated cases, surgery may be needed to completely bypass the eye’s natural drainage system.
Once vision is lost due to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. This is why regular preventive eye exams with your doctor of optometry are so important.
After studying physics at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Fauchon graduated from the University of Montreal, School of Optometry in 1997. He did an internship at the Quentin Burdick Memorial Hospital in Belcourt, North Dakota, with an emphasis on diseases of the retina and glaucoma. He joined eyeDOCS in 1997 and became partner in 1998. For more information about Dr. Fauchon and his specialized interests relating to optometry, click here.