What Is Glaucoma, Anyway?

Glaucoma is a disease that affects the eye’s ability to see. Through an increase in pressure, fluid inside the eye pushes on the optic nerve that relays messages to the brain. The tension damages and ultimately kills these nerves, resulting in blind spots. Blindness typically starts along the edges of vision but can move inward and cause total sight loss.

Blindness from all sides

The eye is quite unique, having several parts devoid of blood vessels that typically provide nutrients. To compensate, the eye uses aqueous humor, a clear liquid, to distribute the necessary sustenance. In healthy eyes, aqueous humor flows through the eye before exiting through drainage channels located between the cornea and iris.

Glaucoma causes these drainage channels to become blocked, trapping aqueous humor inside the eye. Since the eye doesn’t stop producing new aqueous humor, excess liquid builds up inside. Too much fluid and not enough space causes the increase in pressure that can lead to blindness.

The hidden disease

Glaucoma rarely comes with symptoms and can be undetectable to patients with the condition until vision loss starts to occur. Regular eye exams are essential for catching signs of glaucoma before blindness starts to set in. Any vision loss from glaucoma is permanent and can’t be restored.

Drop it like it’s hot

If caught early enough, eye doctors may try one or more eye drops to keep the ailment at bay. These drops can help open blocked drainage passageways or slow the production of aqueous humor. If the disease is too severe or too far along, an ophthalmologist may look to surgery as an option.

Say trabeculectomy five times fast

A trabeculectomy is the best surgical option for fighting the effects of glaucoma. During the procedure, patients are sedated in a sterile operating room. Through a small incision, the surgeon proceeds to create a new drainage passageway for fluid to exit the eye. A small blister, or bleb, forms over this new opening to help filter fluid. Sutures may be placed around the area to help hold the new drainage channel open until healing is complete.

What’s the verdict, doc?

Trabeculectomies are generally very successful surgeries, with about 90% of patients having the desired effect of lowering eye pressure. No surgery is without risk, and patients having trabeculectomies will need to watch out for the following: Leaking of fluid from the surgical site, eye pressure that is too low, eye pressure that is still too high, eye infections, cataract formation, bleeding, and droopy eyelid.

Down the road

While a trabeculectomy is generally successful, there are instances after surgery where revisions may need to take place. A bleb can heal too quickly, or a scar can form over the new drainage location. Either of these scenarios can cause the new drainage channel to not function as intended. The physician may need to perform a needling to reopen the passageway. As the gold standard for many years, a trabeculectomy is still one of the best ways to stop blindness due to glaucoma.