Glaucoma Treatment in Wilmington, NC
Nicknamed “The Silent Thief of Sight,” glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is the nerve that carries information from the eye to the brain. Some cases of untreated glaucoma can lead to irreversible vision loss without causing any noticeable symptoms. By the time someone notices they have glaucoma, it may be too late to reclaim their lost vision.
However, with early detection and appropriate treatment, glaucoma can be controlled and vision loss prevented. At Intracoastal Eye, Dr. Gregory Johnson treats and manages cases of glaucoma in Wilmington, N.C., also serving the surrounding areas.
Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside the eye rises above the normal level. In a healthy eye, there is a delicate balance between the aqueous humor fluid circulating in the front of the eye and the outflow of fluid through the eye. Ideally, as new fluid is produced and enters the eye, the same amount of fluid should leave the eye through the drainage angle located between the iris and the cornea. This helps maintain a steady amount of pressure inside the eye.
But when the drainage angle becomes clogged or blocked, fluid is unable to leave the eye, and the pressure inside the eye can become elevated. At a certain point, high levels of intraocular pressure cause damage to the optic nerve, located at the back of the eye.
There are over 40 different types of glaucoma, generally divided into open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. The great majority of glaucomas are of the open-angle variety.
Open-angle glaucoma develops slowly. The drainage angle contains tissue called trabecular meshwork that filters fluid from the eye. Sometimes the drainage angle becomes clogged, similar to a kitchen or shower drain, and fluid inside the eye has a hard time escaping. The fluid starts to build up, increasing intraocular pressure.
Angle-closure glaucoma can develop slowly or quickly. The drainage angle becomes completely blocked and fluid cannot leave the eye, causing intraocular pressure to spike very quickly.
What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
In most cases of open-angle glaucoma, there are no symptoms or warning signs at first. Slowly, patchy blind spots can appear in the peripheral vision, and as the disease advances, tunnel vision can develop. But many people are unaware they have open-angle glaucoma until the disease has advanced considerably.
Angle-closure glaucoma also usually progresses without warning signs, but rarely there is a sudden spike in intraocular pressure which can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Blurred vision
- Eye pain
- Halos around lights
- Red eyes
- Severe headaches
Treatment and Management of Glaucoma
The treatment and management of glaucoma depends on the type of the disease, but most cases of glaucoma are managed with medicated eyedrops or laser treatment. Some eyedrops reduce the amount of fluid the eye produces, and others help improve the outflow of fluid through the drainage angle. These eyedrops may be used indefinitely and in conjunction with other treatments as needed.
Laser treatments are often very effective for treating glaucoma. Laser energy can be directed at the eye to improve the way fluid drains out of the eye, thus reducing intraocular pressure. Laser treatment for glaucoma is performed in Dr. Johnson’s office.
The most advanced cases of glaucoma require traditional surgery, either to create a new channel for fluid to leave the eye, or to implant a tiny surgical device that acts as a drainage tube.
Am I a Good Candidate for Glaucoma Treatment?
With open-angle glaucoma, if eyedrops alone do not adequately control your intraocular pressure, or you have difficulty using the drops as prescribed, you may be a good candidate for laser or traditional glaucoma surgery. The type of surgery recommended to you depends on the type and severity of your glaucoma.
If you are diagnosed with angle-closure glaucoma, you may need immediate treatment (usually medication combined with laser or traditional surgery) to lower your intraocular pressure as quickly as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions about Glaucoma
Does glaucoma treatment hurt?
Generally, no, but it depends on the type of glaucoma. With open-angle glaucoma, there is almost never any pain. Angle-closure glaucoma is also typically painless, but if there is a sudden increase in intraocular pressure it can cause eye pain, severe headaches, nausea and vomiting.
How long after glaucoma surgery will it take to recover?
Recovering from glaucoma surgery varies by procedure. In general, recovering from laser or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) with microscopic drainage devices is quicker and more comfortable than recovering from traditional surgery.
Can I go blind from glaucoma?
Going blind from glaucoma is rare. However, without treatment, the increased intraocular pressure will cause continual damage to the optic nerve, which can eventually lead to legal or total blindness.
Can I drive home after my surgery?
Most patients drive themselves home from glaucoma laser surgery. If you undergo glaucoma surgery in the operating room, it will take some time for your vision to recover. You may not be able to drive for several days. Every situation is different, so it is best to ask your surgeon when it is safe to resume driving.
Will surgery dry out my eyes?
Sometimes surgery can dry out the eyes, as can certain eyedrops that are used to treat glaucoma.
When will I see the full effects of my glaucoma surgery?
Depending on the type of surgery, it can take one to four weeks to see the full results of surgery.
Does insurance cover glaucoma surgery?
Most major health insurance plans cover treatment for glaucoma. However, you should check your plan’s details about your coverage. Our office is happy to answer any questions you have regarding insurance benefits and glaucoma treatment.
Can you prevent glaucoma?
Although there are no known ways to prevent glaucoma, catching the disease early offers the best chances of properly managing it and preventing related vision loss. The best way to detect glaucoma or other eye diseases in their early stages is to see Dr. Johnson regularly (approximately once a year, depending on your age) for comprehensive eye exams.