Diagnosed With Glaucoma At A Young Age? What Are Your Best Long-Term Treatment Options?

If you've recently visited your ophthalmologist for a routine visit only to discover you're dealing with the high intraocular pressure that could indicate early glaucoma, you may be dismayed and wondering about your future. Without some way to relieve this pressure on your optic nerve, you may notice a gradual decrease in vision until you're partially (or even totally) blind. For those diagnosed with this condition at a relatively young age, the prospect of vision loss can be even more frightening. What should you do to help preserve your vision? Are there any long-term treatments that could help keep your glaucoma at bay for decades? Read on to learn more about how this condition can affect younger patients, as well as your best treatment options to ensure long-term vision preservation.

How does glaucoma typically progress in younger patients?

There are several different types of glaucoma -- while each type can develop at any age, some types are more likely to be diagnosed in younger individuals.

  • Open-angle glaucoma, the most frequently diagnosed type at all ages, involves a blockage of the eye drainage mechanism. This blockage may be composed of dead skin cells, excess tissue growth, or another biological component. By preventing normal fluid and waste product from being able to exit your eye, this blockage can gradually increase the pressure on your optic nerve, causing permanent damage and even vision loss.
  • Closed-angle glaucoma is caused by a physical change in the angle of the tiny drainage tubes near the inner corners of your eyes. Because this usually happens suddenly, the potential for damage can be much higher -- your eye may go from normal to dangerously high pressure within just a few hours.
  • Pigmentary glaucoma is most common among younger men who have already been diagnosed as nearsighted, and involves the sloughing of pigment particles from the inside of your eye, eventually blocking the drainage ducts and causing intraocular pressure to rise.

If you have closed-angle glaucoma, you'll need to seek treatment immediately -- and your symptoms (including sudden, severe eye pain, nausea, and vomiting) will likely be extreme enough to cause you to do so. Open-angle and pigmentary glaucoma, on the other hand, can develop slowly for years before you begin to notice symptoms. In many cases, by the time your symptoms become enough of an annoyance to prompt an ophthalmologist visit, the damage to your optic nerve has already been done. As a result, it's very important to investigate your treatment options as soon as you've been told your eye pressure is abnormally high.

What are the most effective long-term treatments for glaucoma developed in younger patients? 

While glaucoma can often be controlled for years by using pressure-reducing drops regularly, younger patients may be reluctant to commit to any treatment regimen that requires daily medication -- especially when minor surgery can create a more permanent solution. For those with open-angle or pigmentary glaucoma, the placement of a stent can help relieve high pressure by allowing eye fluids to drain normally. As this stent is made from a flexible medical plastic, it's less likely to be susceptible to the issues that caused your eye drainage ducts to become blocked in the first place.

Another alternative that could provide long-term relief is laser surgery. During this process, a high-powered laser is used to create a thin flap (often called a bleb) through which fluid can drain. This procedure is less invasive than stent surgery, but may need to be repeated for patients with pigmentary glaucoma, as this bleb may eventually become blocked or clogged with pigment cells. Your opthalmologist should be able to evaluate your medical history to determine which of these options should require the least amount of follow-up treatment.

For more information, contact a professional like those at Country Hills Eye Center.