If you've recently visited an ophthalmologist with concerns about blurry vision or other difficulty seeing, you may be dismayed to learn that you've been suffering from high intraocular pressure (IOP) for years and have finally developed open-angle glaucoma, or OAG. This type of glaucoma can be very serious -- in fact, it is one of the leading worldwide causes of blindness. Fortunately, recent advances in surgical technology have provided more glaucoma management options than ever before. Read on to learn more about what may have caused your condition, as well as what you can do to manage it going forward.
What causes OAG?
There are two primary types of glaucoma -- open-angle and closed-angle. Closed-angle glaucoma is generally caused by a physical blockage in the eye's drainage ducts. In some cases, this blockage may be a congenital defect, while in others it can be due to a build-up of dead skin cells or other debris within the delicate meshwork of cells within these ducts. Blocked drainage ducts prevent the normal ebb and flow of fluid within the eye, often leading to excessively high IOP, which can damage the optic nerve if left untreated. Closed-angle glaucoma can often be treated simply by removing the blockage and taking steps to prevent it from recurring.
However, OAG is a bit more challenging. Rather than being due to a structural defect within the eye, this glaucoma is caused by the weakening of the cells used to process the waste fluid emitted by the eye. This cellular failure can lead to sporadically high IOP, making this condition very difficult to diagnose until damage has already occurred. Your IOP readings may be normal at a routine ophthalmologist appointment and dangerously high just a few hours later, causing damage to your optic nerve during the short time this pressure remains high. Often, by the time you begin noticing symptoms of your OAG, you've already suffered some mild damage to your vision.
What are your most effective long-term OAG treatment options?
While OAG isn't generally a condition that can be "cured," most patients are able to successfully manage this ailment for years (or even decades) through the use of medication or surgery.
- Pressure-reducing medications
If your condition has begun to manifest itself in a steadily high IOP, your ophthalmologist may prescribe pressure-reducing eye drops or oral medication. By regularly using these eye drops, you'll be able to lower the pressure on your optic nerve and stop any damage to your vision. You'll likely need to have more frequent vision checkups after you begin using prescription eye drops to ensure they're working as intended. If, after several weeks or months of treatment, your ophthalmologist doesn't notice much improvement in your pressure readings -- or if you have periodic episodes of ultra-high pressure that don't respond well to medication -- you'll want to investigate a more permanent option.
- Stent surgery
In some cases, the only way to reliably reduce high IOP or eliminate dramatic swings in your IOP is to have a permanent stent placed in your cornea through microsurgery. This stent is made of a thin, flexible, medical-grade polymer and is designed to replace your eye's natural drainage system. The placement occurs during a routine outpatient surgery, and although you will likely need someone to drive you home from this operation, you shouldn't be dealing with much of a recuperation time at all.
By keeping your eye's drainage system open, an eye stent can also help prevent you from developing closed-angle glaucoma in the future. After surgery, you'll be able to end your reliance on pressure-reducing eye drops for good.
For more information about treating open-angle glaucoma, contact a clinic like Country Hills Eye Center.