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Can an Optometrist Diagnose Glaucoma?

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An optometrist showing a model of an eye to aid her explanation of her findings to a patient.

Regular eye exams are vital for maintaining clear vision and preventing vision problems. Eye diseases, particularly those without warning signs, such as glaucoma, can remain undiagnosed without eye exams. 

But, your optometrist can monitor your ocular health and detect glaucoma before it progresses and causes vision loss. Specialized tests and imaging can provide valuable information on your eye health and indicate the presence of glaucoma for prompt treatment and management. 

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the eye to the brain. Damage to the optic nerve is usually caused by high eye pressure caused by fluid buildup in the eye. 

Glaucoma affects more than 450,000 Canadians and is one of the leading causes of blindness. Glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight” because symptoms are rare in the early stages of glaucoma. But, as glaucoma progresses, you can experience symptoms based on the type of glaucoma. 

Types of Glaucoma

There are several types of glaucoma, the most common being primary open-angle glaucoma.

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for 90% of all glaucoma cases. It presents no warning signs or symptoms, such as vision changes or pain. The cause of primary open-angle glaucoma is increased eye pressure that damages the optic nerve. 

Angle-Closure Glaucoma 

Angle-closure glaucoma is not as common as primary open-angle glaucoma and can progress gradually or suddenly. Sudden onset angle-closure glaucoma is regarded as a medical emergency, as it can cause vision loss in a day. Angle-closure glaucoma results when fluid can’t drain from the eye because of a blocked drainage system, which then causes increased eye pressure and optic nerve damage.  

Secondary Glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma can also occur due to other causes, such as an eye injury, surgery, infection, or tumour that increases eye pressure. Certain medical conditions, medications, and eye abnormalities can also result in secondary glaucoma. 

Normal-Tension Glaucoma 

As the name suggests, normal-tension glaucoma occurs with normal eye pressure. However, the optic nerve is still damaged, possibly due to inadequate blood flow through the blood vessels. 

Symptoms of Glaucoma

A woman with a watery right eye which is a symptom of glaucoma.

Glaucoma symptoms can vary based on the type of glaucoma. Symptoms can include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Redness
  • Eye pain
  • Loss of side or peripheral vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Halos around lights
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Tunnel vision
  • Rapid progression to vision loss

Glaucoma Risk Factors

Your risk of developing glaucoma can increase with the following factors:

  • Increased eye pressure
  • Age
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Physical injury or surgery to the eye
  • High blood pressure, low blood pressure, or heart conditions
  • Certain eye-related conditions like eye inflammation, less optic nerve tissue, eye tumours, and retinal detachment

Glaucoma Diagnosis by Optometrists

Your optometrist can diagnose glaucoma even without early warning symptoms. During a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist uses a variety of tests and techniques to assess the state of your eyes.

Glaucoma testing can include tonometry to measure your intraocular pressure, digital imaging technology to examine the optic nerve for any damage or abnormalities, and other tests to check your field of vision. A comprehensive eye exam is non-invasive and often the first line of defence for monitoring changes in eye health and diagnosing glaucoma, both critical for treatment.

If your eye doctor diagnoses glaucoma, they will recommend an annual eye exam and regular check-ups and develop an individualized treatment plan to manage glaucoma. 

Glaucoma Treatment

Although you can’t cure glaucoma, you can effectively manage it through a combination of treatments. These treatments may include:

  • Medication: A single medication or combination of medications, in eye drop form, to reduce intraocular pressure.
  • Surgery: Several surgical options can help lower eye pressure if medication is ineffective. 

Patients need to work closely with their optometrist and ophthalmologist to determine the course of treatment for their specific type and stage of glaucoma. Early detection and consistent monitoring are key in preserving vision and preventing further damage to the optic nerve. With proper treatment and ongoing care, individuals with glaucoma can maintain healthy vision and quality of life. 

Early Glacoma Diagnosis for Healthier Vision

Even though glaucoma can progress gradually and silently, your optometrist can diagnose the eye disease with the help of a comprehensive eye exam and specialized tests. Regular eye exams should be as routine as visiting the dentist or receiving an annual physical to detect eye diseases in the early stages before they progress to vision loss. If you haven’t had an eye exam in the past year, have vision concerns, or are at risk for developing glaucoma, book an appointment with St. Clair Eye Clinic. We specialize in glaucoma diagnosis and management and can help keep your eyes happy and healthy.

Written by Dr. Neel Vyas

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