Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve. It is estimated that three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half of them know that they have glaucoma. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 60, but blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment. When glaucoma develops, there are usually no early symptoms and the disease progresses slowly. In this way, glaucoma can steal your sight very gradually. Fortunately, early detection and treatment (with eye drops, laser procedures, surgery, or a combination) can help preserve your vision.
Medicated eye drops are the most common way to treat glaucoma. These medications lower your eye pressure in one of two ways – either by reducing the amount of fluid created in the eye or by helping this fluid flow out of the eye through the drainage angle. The angle refers to the connection between the iris (colored part of the eye) and the cornea (clear front of the eye). These eye drops must be taken every day. Just like any other medication, it is important to take your eye drops regularly as prescribed by your ophthalmologist.
A selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) is a procedure used to help treat open-angle glaucoma. In open-angle glaucoma, the trabecular meshwork of the eye gradually becomes less efficient at draining fluid. SLT uses laser energy to treat your drainage angle so it works better over time, helping to lower eye pressure. Sometimes, the laser procedure will not reduce the eye pressure to the desired level and additional treatment may still be necessary.
A laser peripheral iridotomy (LPI) is a procedure used to help treat or prevent angle-closure glaucoma. In angle-closure glaucoma, the iris has come forward towards the cornea, blocking the angle. The blockage prevents fluid from leaving the eye and causes the pressure in the eye to build up rapidly, which can lead to vision loss. LPI involves creating a small hole in the iris with a laser. This helps restore the proper flow of fluid in the eye and reduces eye pressure.
Normally LPI is performed as a preventative measure, but if the iris suddenly blocks the drainage angle, it is called an attack of acute angle-closure glaucoma. Symptoms may include blurred vision, severe eye pain, headache, nausea, and vomiting. The iridotomy is done as an emergency procedure in these cases and may require oral medication and eye drops.