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William J. Rock, MD, Assistant Professor
Ralf Buhrmann, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor
Dr. Garfield (Gary) Miller

In the healthy eye a clear fluid, which helps maintain the shape of the eye and nourishes its internal structures, is continuously produced by the ciliary body and drained through the trabecular meshwork. If the drainage system becomes blocked, this fine balance is disrupted and fluid accumulates inside the eye. The resulting increase in pressure slowly damages the optic nerve, and may eventually result in loss of vision.

Glaucoma is the name given to the group of diseases that can lead to characteristic optic nerve damage and blindness. In Canada, glaucoma affects about 400,000 people. Typically a disease of the elderly (50+ years), the chances of contracting glaucoma increase dramatically with each passing decade.

At the Eye Institute, three methods of treatment are applied to glaucoma. Traditionally, eye drops are used to relieve the pressure, either by reducing the amount of fluid produced or by reopening the drainage channels. If medical therapy is unsuccessful, laser therapy is often employed to eliminate the blockage. As a last resort, ophthalmologists will perform a trabeculectomy, a surgical procedure by which a new drainage channel is created to bypass the clogged system.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘sneak thief of sight’, glaucoma is largely asymptomatic and may go undetected for years as the healthier eye compensates for reduced visual capacity of the affected eye. To date, there is no cure for glaucoma, but regular eye examinations help ensure early detection and prompt treatment, preventing or dramatically reducing the potential for damage.

Although little can be done to rectify vision loss in advanced cases, the Eye Institute makes every effort to help such patients adapt to their altered abilities. Some of these programs are described in the section on Low Vision.