Chronic glaucoma begins gradually over a period of months or years, usually in patients over the age of 40. There are no symptoms in the early stages, and the condition can be detected only by measurement of the intraocular pressure. Such an examination is recommended every three years for all persons over the age of 20. As the disease progresses, often the only symptom is a gradual loss of peripheral vision. Chronic glaucoma can usually be controlled with eye drops or pills that increase the outflow or decrease the production of aqueous humor; laser treatment is also effective in the early stages. If treatment is continued throughout life, useful vision will be preserved in most cases; untreated individuals will gradually become blind.
Acute closed-angle glaucoma, which accounts for only 10% of the incidence of the disease, begins abruptly with severe pain and blurred vision. It is a medical emergency that causes permanent blindness in two to five days if left untreated. Surgery is usually necessary.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases of the optic nerve involving loss of retinal ganglion cells in a characteristic pattern of optic neuropathy. Although raised intraocular pressure is a significant risk factor for developing glaucoma, there is no set threshold for intraocular pressure that causes glaucoma. One person may develop nerve damage at a relatively low pressure, while another person may have high eye pressure for years and yet never develop damage. Untreated glaucoma leads to permanent damage of the optic nerve and resultant visual field loss, which can progress to blindness.
Glaucoma has been nicknamed the "sneaky thief of sight" because the loss of visual field often occurs gradually over a long time and may only be recognized when it is already quite advanced. Once lost, this damaged visual field can never be recovered. Worldwide, it is the second leading cause of blindness. Glaucoma affects one in two hundred people aged fifty and younger, and one in ten over the age of eighty.
The major risk factor for most glaucomas and focus of modeling and treatment is increased intraocular pressure. Intraocular pressure is a function of production of liquid aqueous humor by the ciliary body of the eye and its drainage through the trabecular meshwork. Aqueous humor flows from the ciliary bodies into the posterior chamber, bounded posteriorly by the lens and the zonule of Zinn and anteriorly by the iris. It then flows through the pupil of the iris into the anterior chamber, bounded posteriorly by the iris and anteriorly by the cornea. From here the trabecular meshwork drains aqueous humor via Schlemm's canal into scleral plexuses and general blood circulation. In open angle glaucoma there is reduced flow through the trabecular meshwork; in angle closure glaucoma, the iris is pushed forward against the trabeular meshwork, blocking fluid from escaping.
The inconsistent relationship of glaucomatous optic neuropathy with ocular hypertension has provoked hypotheses and studies on anatomic structure, eye development, nerve compression trauma, optic nerve blood flow, excitatory neurotransmitter, trophic factor, retinal ganglion cell/axon degeneration, glial support cell, immune, and aging mechanisms of neuron loss.
The major types of glaucoma are discussed below.
Ocular hypertension is the largest risk factor in most glaucomas, though, in some populations only 50% of patients with primary open angle glaucoma have elevated ocular pressure. Diabetics and those of African descent are three times more likely to develop primary open angle glaucoma. Higher age, thinner corneal thickness, and myopia are also risk factors for primary open angle glaucoma. People with a family history of glaucoma have about a six percent chance of developing glaucoma. Asians are prone to develop, and Inuit have a twenty to forty times higher risk than Caucasians of developing primary angle closure glaucoma. Women are three times more likely than men to develop acute angle-closure glaucoma due to their shallower anterior chambers. Use of steroids can also cause glaucoma.
Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) has been found to be associated with mutations in genes at several loci . Normal tension glaucoma, which comprises one third of POAG, is associated with genetic mutations.
There is increasing evidence of ocular blood flow to be involved in the pathogenesis of glaucoma. Current data indicate that fluctuations in blood flow are more harmful in glaucomatous optic neuropathy than steady reductions. Unstable blood pressure and dips are linked to optic nerve head damage and correlate with visual field deterioration.
A number of studies also suggest that there is a correlation, not necessarily causal, between glaucoma and systemic hypertension (i.e. high blood pressure). In normal tension glaucoma, nocturnal hypotension may play a significant role. On the other hand there is no clear evidence that vitamin deficiencies cause glaucoma in humans, nor that oral vitamin supplementation is useful in glaucoma treatment
Various rare congenital/genetic eye malformations are associated with glaucoma. Occasionally, failure of the normal third trimester gestational atrophy of the hyaloid canal and the tunica vasculosa lentis is associated with other anomalies. Angle closure induced ocular hypertension and glaucomatous optic neuropathy may also occur with these anomalies. and modelled in mice .
Those at risk for glaucoma are advised to have a dilated eye examination at least once a year.
Each of these medicines may have local and systemic side effects. Adherence to medication protocol can be confusing and expensive; if side effects occur, the patient must be willing either to tolerate these, or to communicate with the treating physician to improve the drug regimen. Initially, glaucoma drops may reasonably be started in either one or in both eyes.
Poor compliance with medications and follow-up visits is a major reason for vision loss in glaucoma patients. Patient education and communication must be ongoing to sustain successful treatment plans for this lifelong disease with no early symptoms.
The possible neuroprotective effects of various topical and systemic medications are also being investigated.
The first patient in the United States federal government's Compassionate Investigational New Drug program, Robert Randall, was afflicted with glaucoma and had successfully fought charges of marijuana cultivation because it was deemed a medical necessity (U.S. v. Randall) in 1976.
Both laser and conventional surgeries are performed to treat glaucoma.
Surgery is the primary therapy for those with congenital glaucoma.
Generally, these operations are a temporary solution, as there is not yet a cure for glaucoma.
Nd:YAG Laser peripheral iridotomy may be used in patients susceptible to or affected by angle closure glaucoma or pigment dispersion syndrome. During laser iridotomy, laser energy is used to make a small full-thickness opening in the iris. This opening equalizes the pressure between the front and back of the iris correcting any abnormal bulging of the iris. In people with narrow angles, this can uncover the trabecular meshwork. In some cases of intermittent or short-term angle closure this may lower the eye pressure. Laser iridotomy reduces the risk of developing an attack of acute angle closure. In most cases it also reduces the risk of developing chronic angle closure or of adhesions of the iris to the trabecular meshwork.
Diode laser cycloablation could be considered to be performed. It lowers IOP by reducing aqueous secretion by destroying secretory ciliary epithelium.
The ongoing scarring over the conjunctival dissipation segment of the shunt may become too thick for the aqueous humor to filter through. This may require preventive measures using anti-fibrotic medication like 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) or mitomycin-C (during the procedure), or additional surgery. And for Glaucomatous painful Blind Eye and some cases of Glaucoma, Cyclocryotherapy for ciliary body ablation could be considered to be performed.
Primary open-angle glaucoma - This is caused by trabecular blockage which is where the aqueous humor in the eye drains out. Because the microscopic passage ways are blocked, the pressure builds up in the eye and causes imperceptible very gradual vision loss. Peripheral vision is affected first but eventually the entire vision will be lost if not treated. Diagnosis is made by looking for cupping of the optic nerve. The treatment's goal is to release the fluid by opening uveoscleral passageways, which are acted upon by prostoglandin agonists. Beta blockers such as timolol, alpha 2 agonist, work by decreasing aqueous formation. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors decrease bicarbonate formation from ciliary processes in the eye, thus decreasing formation of Aqueous humor. Parasympathetic analogs are drugs that work on the trabecular outflow by opening up the passageway and constricting the pupil.
Primary angle-closure glaucoma - This is caused by contact between the iris and trabecular meshwork, which in turn obstructs outflow of the aqueous humor from the eye. This contact between iris and trabecular meshwork (TM) may gradually damage the function of the meshwork until it fails to keep pace with aqueous production, and the pressure rises. In over half of all cases, prolonged contact between iris and TM causes the formation of synechiae (effectively "scars"). These cause permanent obstruction of aqueous outflow. In some cases, pressure may rapidly build up in the eye causing pain and redness (symptomatic, or so called "acute" angle-closure). In this situation the vision may become blurred, and halos may be seen around bright lights. Accompanying symptoms may include headache and vomiting. Diagnosis is made from physical signs and symptoms: pupils mid-dilated and unresponsive to light, cornea edematous (cloudy), reduced vision, redness, pain. However, the majority of cases are asymptomatic. Prior to very severe loss of vision, these cases can only be identified by examination, generally by an eye care professional. Once any symptoms have been controlled, the first line (and often definitive) treatment is laser iridotomy. This may be performed using either Nd:YAG or argon lasers, or in some cases by conventional incisional surgery. The goal of treatment is to reverse, and prevent, contact between iris and trabecular meshwork. In early to moderately advanced cases, iridotomy is successful in opening the angle in around 75% of cases. In the other 25% laser iridoplasty, medication (pilocarpine) or incisional surgery may be required.
Neovascular glaucoma is an uncommon type of glaucoma that is difficult or nearly impossible to treat. This condition is often caused by proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) or central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO). It may also be triggered by other conditions that result in ischemia of the retina or ciliary body. Individuals with poor blood flow to the eye are highly at risk for this condition.
Neovascular glaucoma results when new, abnormal vessels begin developing in the angle of the eye that begin blocking the drainage. Patients with such condition begin to rapidly lose their eyesight. A new treatment for this disease, as first reported by Kahook and colleagues, involves use of a novel group of medications known as Anti-VEGF agents. These injectable medications can lead to a dramatic decrease in new vessel formation and, if injected early enough in the disease process, may lead to normalization of intraocular pressure.
Toxic glaucoma is open angle glaucoma with an unexplained significant rise of intraocular pressure following unknown pathogenesis. Intraocular pressure can sometimes reach 80 mmHg. It characteristically mainfests as cilliary body inflammation and massive trabecular oedema that sometimes extends to Schlemm's Canal. This condition is differentiated from malignant glaucoma by the presence of a deep and clear anterior chamber and a lack of aqueous misdirection. Also, the corneal appearance is not as hazy. A reduction in visual acuity can occur followed neuroretinal breakdown. Associated factors include inflammation, drugs, trauma and intraocular surgery, including cataract surgery and vitrectomy procedures. Gede Pardianto (2005) reports on four patients who had toxic glaucoma. One of them underwent phaecoemulsification with small particle nucleus drops. Some cases can be resolved with some medication, vitrectomy procedures or trabeculectomy. Valving procedures can give some relief but further research is required.
Photographs of glaucomatous eyes:http://webeye.ophth.uiowa.edu/eyeforum/atlassearch1.htm ] This URL will download the search form of the University of Iowa Eye Atlas. Type glaucoma into the Diagnosis space and then click on Run Query to download the annotated photographs.