As we get older, our bodies become more fragile. People over age 60 frequently experience vision problems that are triggered by age-related eye conditions. Two of the most common conditions that affect seniors are cataracts and glaucoma.
Some people have both conditions, while others may only have one. But glaucoma isn’t worse than cataracts, or vice versa — they are separate conditions triggered by different factors, each with varying levels of severity. Both eye conditions are treatable, however, especially if caught early.
It’s important to understand the basics of glaucoma and cataracts, how they’re different, and what the treatment options are. Let’s review:
Glaucoma describes a group of eye diseases, all of which cause damage to the optic nerve, the part of the eye that sends visual information to the brain.
Optic nerve damage in glaucoma patients is often caused by a buildup of pressure in the eye, which is a result of fluid not draining properly.
Sometimes people can even have “normal” pressure and develop glaucoma which is why additional testing to check the optic nerve is done beyond just eye pressure checks. If the optic nerve is significantly damaged, it can cause major vision loss and permanent blindness if left untreated.
Glaucoma typically develops slowly over many years and a person can adapt to the gradual loss of peripheral vision causing the disease to progress until it has reached an advanced stage.
In the worst cases, glaucoma can result in only a very small island of central vision or even complete blindness. This is why glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight.”
The Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) and daily eye drops are the most common forms of glaucoma treatment. Each work to reduce pressure in the eye and lower the risk of serious vision loss.
It’s important to note that glaucoma is may not be a completely curable disease — treatment usually stalls or slows the progress over time. If regular treatment from medication doesn’t slow the progress enough, glaucoma surgery may be needed to help drain fluid away from inside of the eye.
Glaucoma treatment methods are only effective if the disease is identified early. Any vision loss due to glaucoma cannot be reversed, which means it’s very important to schedule regular eye exams — especially if you’re over age 60.
During a comprehensive eye exam, your doctor will thoroughly examine your eyes to identify any signs of glaucoma. If the disease is detected, you will be assessed to determine how far glaucoma has advanced.
Your candidacy for laser treatments, eyedrops, oral medication, or glaucoma surgery will be based on how far the disease has progressed and how well the pressure is able to be controlled.
Cataracts are formed when the crystalline lens inside your eye becomes clouded with proteins. While cataracts are a normal part of the aging process, they can impair your vision and disrupt your quality of life.
Vision loss may not be noticeable at first, but as cataracts develop, patients experience blurry vision, glare, and increased difficulty seeing up close or in low light. If left untreated, cataracts can also cause blindness.
In contrast to glaucoma, cataracts can be “cured” by removing the natural lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens implant, or intraocular lens (IOL). In fact, cataract surgery is the only effective form of treatment for cataracts.
Surgery is typically recommended when cataracts significantly affect daily activities such as driving, reading, or recognizing faces. Some people can live with cataracts for years without major visual problems, while others may develop cataracts more quickly and need surgery as soon as cataracts are diagnosed.
Glaucoma vs. Cataracts
Although glaucoma and cataracts are different, the key to managing both conditions is early detection and management. With glaucoma, early detection is absolutely vital in order to prevent vision loss.
But even with cataracts, early detection ensures your doctor can monitor the progress of your cataracts and recommend cataract surgery when the time is right.
If you find yourself in need of an eye specialist to evaluate you for cataract surgery or to treat your glaucoma, try Montgomery Eye Center!
Our glaucoma and cataract specialists in Naples, FL are experienced in advanced treatment for both eye conditions. Contact us to make an appointment at our eye care clinic today!