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Cataracts, Glaucoma & Macular Degeneration


Glaucoma

Normal Optic Nerve vs. Optic Nerve with GlaucomaGlaucoma is a group of eye disorders that cause damage to the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain. This condition is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in loss of peripheral (side) vision. The optic nerve is a bundle of nerve fibers that transmits the visual signals from the eye to the brain. The most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is associated with an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye. This increase in pressure may cause progressive damage to the optic nerve and loss of nerve fibers. Vision loss may result. Advanced glaucoma may even cause blindness. Not everyone with high eye pressure will develop glaucoma, and many people with normal eye pressure will develop glaucoma. When the pressure inside an eye is too high for that particular optic nerve, whatever that pressure measurement may be, glaucoma will develop.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. It most often occurs in people over age 40, although a congenital or infantile form of glaucoma exists. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans over the age of 40, and Hispanics over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. Other risk factors include thinner corneas, chronic eye inflammation, and using medications that increase the pressure in the eyes.

The most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, develops slowly and usually without any symptoms. Many people do not become aware they have the condition until significant vision loss has occurred. It initially affects peripheral or side vision, but can advance to central vision loss. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to significant loss of vision in both eyes, and may even lead to blindness.

A less common type of glaucoma, acute angle closure glaucoma, usually occurs abruptly due to a rapid increase of pressure in the eye. Its symptoms may include severe eye pain, nausea, redness in the eye, seeing colored rings around lights, and blurred vision. This condition is an ocular emergency, and medical attention should be sought immediately, as severe vision loss can occur quickly.

Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early it can usually be controlled. Medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. However, vision already lost to glaucoma cannot be restored. That is why Dr. Felton and the American Optometric Association recommend a yearly dilated eye examination for people at risk for glaucoma as a preventive eye care measure. Depending on your specific condition, Dr. Felton may recommend more frequent examinations.

Cataracts

A cataract is a cloudy area in the normally clear lens of the eye. Clouding of the lens occurs as a result of changes in the proteins and lens fibers. Depending upon its size and location, it can interfere with normal vision. Most cataracts develop in people over age 55, but they occasionally occur in infants and young children. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other. Once the lens is clouded by a cataract, light is scattered so the lens can no longer focus it properly, causing vision problems.

The lens is composed of layers like an onion. The outermost is the capsule. The layer inside the capsule is the cortex, and the innermost layer is the nucleus. A cataract may develop in any of these areas and is described based on its location in the lens:

A nuclear cataract is located in the center of the lens. The nucleus tends to darken changing from clear to yellow and sometimes brown.

A cortical cataract affects the layer of the lens surrounding the nucleus. It is identified by its unique wedge or spoke appearance.

A posterior capsular cataract is found in the back outer layer of the lens. This type often develops more rapidly.


Cataracts generally form very slowly. As the cararact worsens, vision symptoms tend to increase in severity.  Signs and symptoms of a cataract may include:

  • Blurred, hazy, or vision
  • Reduced intensity of colors
  • Increased sensitivity to glare from lights, particularly when driving at night
  • Increased difficulty seeing at night
  • Changes in the eye's prescription

Macular Degeneration

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 50. Caucasians are at higher risk for developing AMD than other races. Women also develop AMD at an earlier age than men. This eye disease occurs when there are changes to the macula, a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye. AMD is a loss of central vision that can occur in two forms: “dry” or atrophic and “wet” or exudative.

Most people with macular degeneration have the dry form, for which there is no known treatment. The less common wet form may respond to laser procedures, if diagnosed and treated early.

Some common symptoms are: a gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly, distorted vision, a gradual loss of color vision, and a dark or empty area appearing in the center of vision. If you experience any of these, contact Dr. Felton immediately for a comprehensive examination. Central vision that is lost to macular degeneration cannot be restored. However, low vision devices, such as telescopic and microscopic lenses, can be prescribed to maximize existing vision.

Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein/zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including macular degeneration.


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