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Can an Optometrist Diagnose Glaucoma?

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Here's a recommended change: An optometrist explains glaucoma to a patient using a 3D model of the eye.

Glaucoma is the name for several eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, a core part of your visual system. This damage is slow, painless, and can lead to vision loss if not managed.

Your optometrist is an important member of your healthcare team. They play a key role in protecting your eye health and vision and they can also diagnose and treat glaucoma.

Here at River Heights Eyecare, our team is equipped to recognize glaucoma early and offer a range of methods for managing the disease.

What Role Do Optometrists Play Against Glaucoma?

Optometrists are primary healthcare professionals who specialize in eye care and vision health. Their training involves completing a 4-year Doctor of Optometry degree, which includes education in diagnosing, managing, and treating eye diseases and disorders. Optometrists are licensed to perform eye exams, prescribe corrective lenses, and detect various eye abnormalities.

Optometrists are primary eye care providers and serve as the first line of defence against glaucoma. They conduct comprehensive eye exams, which include screening for signs of increased eye pressure (a significant risk factor) and other signs associated with glaucoma. In Alberta, they can prescribe therapeutic medications to manage the disease.

Types of Glaucoma

There are several types of glaucoma, each with its own causes and risk factors: 

  • Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type. It occurs when the drainage angle of the eye becomes less efficient, leading to an increase in IOP. It develops slowly without noticeable symptoms, making routine eye exams essential for detecting it. 
  • Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the eye’s drainage angle becomes completely blocked, causing a sudden increase in IOP. It can develop slowly (chronic) or suddenly (acute).
  • Normal-tension glaucoma damages the optic nerve even though IOP is within the normal range. Other factors, such as blood flow and genetics, may play a role in this glaucoma, making routine eye exams essential for detecting it.  
  • Secondary glaucoma can also develop as a result of other eye conditions or diseases, such as trauma, inflammation, or cataracts. 
An optometrist explains glaucoma to a patient using a 3D model of the eye.

How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed?

A comprehensive eye exam is essential for diagnosing any type of glaucoma. It typically includes:

  • Tonometry: This test measures the internal pressure of the eye. Elevated pressure is a significant risk factor for glaucoma.
  • Ophthalmoscopy: This test examines the inside of the eye, including the optic nerve, retina, and blood vessels, for signs of damage.

Additional tests include: 

  • Gonioscopy: This test examines the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea to determine whether it is open or closed, which is important in diagnosing angle-closure glaucoma.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This is a sophisticated scanning system that creates a detailed image of the optic nerve and surrounding tissues.
  • Perimetry: Also known as a visual field test, perimetry measures all areas of eyesight for blind spots. Peripheral vision is often affected by glaucoma first.

If these tests indicate the possibility of glaucoma, your optometrist may either manage your care themselves or refer you to an ophthalmologist. 

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the eye and can provide a higher level of intervention, including surgical treatments.

The Importance of Early Detection

Early detection and treatment are crucial for managing glaucoma. Optic nerve damage and vision loss caused by glaucoma can be reversed, but with proper intervention, we can slow or even stop its progression.

These routine visits are especially important for individuals at higher risk for the disease:

  • Those with a family history of glaucoma 
  • Anyone over 40 and especially over 60
  • Have nearsightedness (myopia)
  • High internal eye pressure

By starting treatment in the early stages of glaucoma, optometrists can manage the disease more effectively, maintaining the patient’s quality of life and visual function. Treatment initiated after significant damage has occurred can only mitigate further loss but cannot reverse past damage. Early treatment is not just about preserving vision but also about minimizing the impact on overall well-being.

Protect Your Vision with Regular Eye Care

At River Heights Eyecare, our optometrists are highly trained in glaucoma detection and management. We can effectively manage glaucoma through medication and ongoing monitoring for many patients. In cases requiring specialized care, we can refer you to an ophthalmologist.Routine eye exams are a key component of preventive health care and can help protect you from vision loss caused by glaucoma. Book an appointment with our River Heights Eyecare team to learn more about glaucoma.

Written by Shazeen Manji

Dr. Shazeen Manji was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and attended the University of Alberta, where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree. She then went on to earn her optometry degree at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, where she graduated with honours. Dr. Manji received her training in a vast array of clinical settings, including private practices and Veterans Affairs hospitals, where she focused on pediatrics and contact lenses. Though she enjoys all aspects of private practice, Dr. Manji has a particular interest in ocular disease and contact lenses. She completed her ocular disease externship at the Wilmington V.A. Hospital and has completed an advanced studies course in contact lenses, giving her unique insight into fitting specialty contact lenses. In 2019, Dr. Manji purchased River Heights Eye Care where she is now practicing.
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