More than three million people in the United States have it, and it is our second leading cause of blindness.
Left untreated, glaucoma can slowly steal a person's vision at any age.
But if it's diagnosed early, a UCH specialist can treat the condition to prevent long-term vision loss.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, the nerve that carries image data to the brain.
Glaucoma can damage your vision so gradually you may not notice any loss of vision until the disease is at an advanced stage.
Because most forms of glaucoma do not have any symptoms, it's important to be screened regularly by an ophthalmologist for signs of the disease.
Several factors can put you at increased risk for developing glaucoma. Among them:
Elevated eye pressure
Your eye maintains a healthy pressure inside ("intraocular pressure") by continuously producing, circulating, and draining fluid. If this circulation mechanism is faulty, pressure can build in the eye, which can lead to glaucoma.
People over the age of 60 are at increased risk of developing glaucoma.
African-Americans are five time more likely to get glaucoma than are Caucasians, and they're much more likely to experience permanent blindness as a result. People of Latino and Asian descent also face an increased risk.
If you have a family history of glaucoma, you have a much greater risk of developing it.
Certain medical conditions
People with diabetes and hypothyroidism have an increased risk of the disease.
Other eye conditions
Severe eye injuries can result in higher eye pressure. Injury can also dislocate the lens of the eye, blocking proper fluid circulation. Other conditions include retinal detachment, eye tumors, and certain inflammatory eye disorders.
Types and Symptoms
The two main types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure. The terms describe fluid drainage angles between the eye's cornea and iris. Their symptoms are markedly different.
In primary open-angle glaucoma, signs and symptoms include:
- Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes
- Tunnel vision in advanced stages of the disease
In acute angle-closure glaucoma, signs and symptoms include:
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting (accompanies the pain)
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
Your opthalmologist will conduct tests to measure eye pressure.
To determine if you have glaucoma, your eye doctor will perform eye exams that include a number of tests. Among them:
Measuring intraocular pressure. "Tonometry” is a simple, painless test that indicates elevated pressure within the eye.
Test for optic nerve damage. Using a precision instrument, your UCH specialist looks directly through the pupil to examine the back of your eye for any signs of glaucoma.
Visual field test. Your ophthalmologist checks your peripheral ("side") vision, often the area of vision first affected by glaucoma.
Optic nerve imaging. The Ophthalmology practice at UCH has state-of-the-art imaging machines that help identify glaucomatous changes in the back of the eye and guide treatment:
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)
- Heidelberg Retinal Tomography (HRT)
Our ophthalmologists also use instruments that look at the front of the eye, such as high-resolution ultrasound and laser guided imaging such as the Visante anterior segment OCT.
Some at higher risk
People at increased risk for glaucoma should be screened at least every two years. Those at higher risk include:
- African Americans over the age of 40
- Anyone over the age of 60
- People with a family history of glaucoma
Glaucoma treatments reduce intraocular pressure by improving outflow of eye fluid, reducing its production, or both.
Early treatment of glaucoma is important to prevent vision loss. These treatments include:
Prescription eyedrops or medicine
Some eyedrops are effective in maintaining eye pressure levels. Different classes of eye drops are used, depending on the specifics of the condition:
- Prostaglandin-like compounds. Eyedrops in this class increase the outflow of aqueous humor (fluid inside the eye).
- Beta blockers. Drops of this kind reduce the production of fluid.
- Alpha-agonists. Drops of this type reduce the production of aqueous humor and increase drainage.
- Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Also reduce the production of fluid.
Special lasers generate high-energy light beams that ophthalmologists can use to open blocked fluid channels or create drainage ports in the eye.
Many laser procedures take less than 30 minutes to perform, and patients quickly resume normal activities with no discomfort.
Eye surgery may be the most effective treatment option for patients who do not tolerate medications well, or if other treatments have proven ineffective for them. Your UCH ophthalmologist will be happy to discuss these surgical options with you.
Specialists in laser and surgical procedures
UCH Eye Center providers Dr. Malik Kahook and Dr. Douglas MacKenzie have extensive experience with laser and surgical approaches and are actively involved in creating newer safer and more effective techniques.
Here's Why You Should Come to the UCH Eye Center
- UCH and University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology have been ranked in the Top 10 Best Clinical (Patient Care) Programs in a recent Ophthalmology Times survey.
- The Eye Center at UCH is a state-of-the art facility dedicated to providing both routine and specialty diagnostic and clinical care.
- All of our doctors are fellowship trained – this means they've achieved the highest level of expertise. They're able to accurately diagnose and effectively treat the most complicated cases.
- Our doctors also conduct clinical research. This makes it possible for us to offer the latest treatments and surgical options to our patients sooner than other eye doctors can.
- Our doctors train the next generation of eye doctors!
Where to get treatment
The Eye Center at UCH is in the
Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Institute
building on the Anschutz Medical
There are many fine opththalmology centers.
Your goal is to find a place with a broad and deep array of specialists. There are so many advances happening so rapidly in the area of vision care, it's best to choose experts with proven track records and a very close tie to a leading research university.
The Eye Center at University of Colorado Hospital is the most advanced (and beautiful) facility and eye center in the region. Patients treated here get outstanding outcomes in both routine and specialty diagnostic and clinical care.
Call us today at (720) 848-2020.
Treating glaucoma non-invasively
Dr. Malik Kahook
Malik Kahook of the UCH Eye Center invented a device that he hopes can treat glaucoma non-invasively and, ultimately, more safely.
Inventor of the year
The university's Technology Transfer Office – which helps our researchers bring their inventions to market – has made him its "Inventor of the Year" for 2010. Up next are several more years of trials and tests to improve the invention.
Many physicians who practice as UCH are also known as scientists, inventors and practitioners of the latest proven treatments.
In a world where medical knowledge doubles every four years, that's no mean task.