Both cataracts and glaucoma are eye problems that can cause loss of vision. Cataracts are usually painless and progress gradually, while glaucoma on the other hand can be both slow and subtle or painful and quick. If you have cataracts, you suffer from a change in the lens. The cloudiness causes the light to not be seen properly. Glaucoma is a buildup of pressure in the eye that then damages the optic nerve, which is an important part of how the brain processes the information you see. Glaucoma is more likely to cause blindness and the blindness is irreversible, so treatment is vital. While cataracts can be dangerous, it’s not as likely to cause blindness as glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a number of different conditions that affect your optic nerve. When there is fluid buildup in the eye, it then increases the eye pressure, also known as intraocular pressure. There is either an overproduction of fluid or the trabecula meshwork, where the fluid drains, has become blocked. When you have high eye pressure, it damages the optic nerve.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
The symptoms of glaucoma can include a number of different changes to vision and pain, including:
- Blind spots in central or peripheral vision and this is often seen in both eyes
- Tunnel vision
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Redness of the eye
- Severe headaches
- Vomiting or nausea
- Seeing halos around lights
Types of Glaucoma
There are four types of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type and this is where the eye pressure builds up slowly over time and you don’t usually feel symptoms right away. This type of glaucoma can run in families so your risk is higher if your grandparent or parent has or had open-angle glaucoma.
Closed-angle glaucoma occurs suddenly and fluid can’t drain out of the eye, which results in a severe rise in pressure. This is considered an emergency and you are at risk for it in a second eye if you have acute glaucoma in one eye. Secondary glaucoma occurs when there is a known cause, such as eye disease, eye injury, or diseases such as diabetes. Congenital glaucoma runs in families and often happens in babies. It’s present at birth and is caused because the eye doesn’t develop normally.
Treatment of Glaucoma
If left untreated, glaucoma will become progressively worse and will eventually cause blindness. Even with treatment, it’s still possible to become blind from glaucoma.
Unfortunately, the damage from glaucoma isn’t able to be reversed. Regular treatments can help prevent vision loss and slow the progression. This is why regular eye appointments are important, in order to catch the disease in its early stages to slow progression as much as possible. Treatment includes lowering the intraocular pressure but can depend on which type of glaucoma you have. There are a number of different approaches that can be done that include oral medicines, prescription eye drops, surgery, laser treatment, or a combination of these approaches.
Treatment usually begins with eye drops. Depending on the drops prescribed, they can work to improve how fluid drains from the eye or decrease the fluid that the eye makes. Depending on how low you need to get the eye pressure, you could be prescribed more than one type of eye drop. Some of the eye drop medicine may be absorbed into the bloodstream so there can be some side effects that are unrelated to the eyes.
Eye drops may not be enough to lower pressure so there are also oral medications that can be used in combination.
If prescribed medications don’t work to lower eye pressure, there is also surgery and other therapies. Laser therapy can be an option if medicine hasn’t slowed down the progression of glaucoma or you aren’t able to tolerate the eye drops. The therapy is done in the doctor’s office and the doctor uses a small laser to improve the tissue that drains the fluid. It can take some time to see the full effects of this procedure. Filtering surgery is done when your eye surgeon creates an opening in the white of the eye in order to help fluid drain from the eye. Drainage tubes can also be inserted into the eye in order to drain excess fluid.
If you are diagnosed with closed-angle glaucoma, this is considered a medical emergency and you will need urgent treatment in order to lower the eye pressure. This usually requires treatment with a laser, surgical procedures, and medicine. You may have laser peripheral iridotomy. This procedure is where your doctor creates a small hole in the iris with a laser to allow fluid to drain through the iris.
Cataracts are a common eye issue, especially for those who are older. It’s a cloudy area in the eye lens. The lens allows light to enter your eye and then project images to the retina located at the back of the eye. When proteins inside the eye break down, they can clump together and form this cloudy area. This area can be brown, yellow, or white in color. People who have cataracts don’t typically notice them at first but then will start to notice that their vision becomes hazy, less colorful, or blurry. They may also notice that it’s harder to do everyday activities such as reading.
Symptoms of Cataracts
Symptoms of cataracts include:
- Night blindness or poor night vision
- Seeing faded colors
- Seeing double
- Frequent changes to your eyeglasses prescription
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Feeling of lights, such as headlights, lamps, and the sun being too bright
Treatment of Cataracts
Without treatment, cataracts can lead to blindness. If prescription eyeglasses can’t clear your vision then the only treatment for cataracts is surgery.
It’s best to speak with your doctor if you are considering cataract surgery. Most people will consider surgery when cataracts begin to affect quality of life or the ability to do normal activities. For many people, there is no rush to remove cataracts since they typically don’t harm the eyes. However, cataracts can worsen quicker in those who have certain conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes. If you delay the procedure then it won’t usually affect how well vision recovers after.
During surgery, your eye doctor removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with an artificial clear lens. The new artificial lens is positioned in the same area as your natural lens and stays as a permanent part of the eye. If you have an eye condition that prohibits the use of an artificial lens then once the cataract is removed, your vision may be fixed with contact lenses or eyeglasses. There is a risk of infection with cataract surgery but the procedure is generally considered safe.
Can Cataracts Affect Glaucoma?
Cataracts can become large enough that they do block the eye’s drainage system, which will require treatment and surgery that is similar to options to treat glaucoma. Cataracts can also form after you have glaucoma surgery. It’s recommended that you wait about one to two years after some glaucoma treatments before you have surgery to remove cataracts. The delay in the cataract treatment can help make sure the eye is healthy enough and stable before cataracts are removed.
Is It Possible to Have Cataract and Glaucoma Surgery at the Same Time?
It’s possible to have surgery for both glaucoma and cataracts at the same time. These combination surgeries are newer MIGS (micro-invasive glaucoma surgeries) procedures. The procedures can be done through the same incision. It’s possible in certain patients that cataract surgery can improve drainage and alleviate eye pressure to prevent the need for glaucoma surgery. Combined surgery may not be right for every patient and there are a number of variables you want to consider with your eye doctor. You will need to consider your unique case, including the type of glaucoma you have and if surgery is the right approach for you to begin with.
Contact Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute
If you have either glaucoma or cataracts, the specialists at Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute are here to help you with treatment options. Regular eye exams are important for diagnosis for both conditions so regular eye check-ups are recommended even if you don’t have vision problems. We have recruited the best physicians and use advanced technologies in order to provide you with care in a convenient location. Don’t delay treatment, especially with symptoms of glaucoma. Contact us today to request an appointment!