The following essay is based on Glenn Stok's research to understand this health condition. As a technical writer, he shares that knowledge.
One day I briefly lost my sight in one eye. It turned out that I had glaucoma, which can damage the optic nerve due to increased pressure in the eye.1
My eye doctor performed a procedure that effectively cured the glaucoma by eliminating the cause of the increased pressure. It's called Laser Iridotomy.2
What you'll learn from this article:
- I’ll start by discussing what led up to the diagnosis and what my ophthalmologist did at first.
- Then I’ll explain how he later used Laser Iridotomy to keep my glaucoma under control without the need for eye drops.
- Finally, I’ll tell you about my post-treatment period and how I’m doing now.
My Experience With Temporary Loss of Sight
I had complained to my ophthalmologist from time to time about pain in my eyes. However, he never diagnosed glaucoma because my pressure was normal every time he checked it.
That can be very misleading because, as I found out later, my pressure spiked randomly. My doctor explained to me that some people have that situation, where the pressure spikes high and then goes back to normal.
One day I suddenly lost my sight in my right eye. I ran into the bathroom and looked in the mirror to try to figure out what was happening. I closed my left eye, and I couldn't see a thing with my right eye.
In less than a minute, I began to see a faint reflection of myself in the mirror with my right eye. My site was coming back. The entire episode lasted just a couple of minutes.
Good. At least I wasn't blind. But what the hell just happened?
"This is not something to ignore just because I can see again," I thought to myself, so I immediately called my eye doctor. He asked if I could come right over. I did.
A Diagnosis of Glaucoma
When I got to my ophthalmologist's office, he tested my eye pressure. It was as high as 40 in my right eye. Normal eye pressure is around 16. He said, "Now we have a diagnosis. You have glaucoma."
He told me that my pressure must have been even higher an hour ago when I temporarily lost my sight.
He gave me eye drops to lower my eye pressure, and he would not let me leave the office until he was able to bring my eye pressure down. He also gave me a prescription for the drops to use from that point on.
How the Optic Nerve Can Get Damaged
A person with glaucoma needs to continue to use medication to keep the pressure under control. If the pressure is too high for an extended period, then blood cannot get into the optic nerve, and the nerve will die.
The optic nerve dies from the outer edges first. If glaucoma is left untreated, one will notice that they are losing their sight from the peripheral first. Then it continues to close in until one feels like they are looking through a tunnel.
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That is known as tunnel vision, literally. The only part of the field of vision that's left is in the center. If one continues without treatment, then they eventually can lose that center view too.
I was lucky.
In my case, blood started flowing back in within a minute.
Brain cells are damaged due to a lack of oxygen in about four to six minutes in situations where blood flow is interrupted. That includes the optic nerves as well.3
My doctor told me that if my eye pressure stayed high for just a little longer, I might have had partial damage to my optic nerve.
My doctor gave me peripheral vision tests once a year for a few years after that to be sure that I was not losing peripheral vision.
I was okay because we caught my glaucoma in time. Now I had to use eye drops to keep the pressure under control.
A Permanent Alternative to Eye Drops
A year after my incident, my doctor told me about the laser iridotomy procedure. He explained that this treatment is for people with narrow-angle pigmentary glaucoma, which is the kind that I have.
There are many different types of glaucoma, and this procedure doesn't work for all of them.
The laser makes a small pinhole in the iris (the colored part of the eye). That serves two purposes:
- It lets fluid leak out to avoid pressure build-up.
- It also may prevent scar formation between the iris and the cornea that can lead to further progression of glaucoma.
After the treatment, I would not have to use eye drops anymore to control the pressure.
I researched it before deciding to go ahead with the treatment. I took home some leaflets to read, I bought a book on the subject, and I read some research on the web. After all my due diligence, I felt comfortable enough to go ahead with the procedure.
How Is Laser Iridotomy Treatment Done?
My doctor scheduled me for the treatment to be done right in his office.
He spent what felt like an hour preparing me and explaining how it worked. The rest of it was over in no time.
- My eyelid was held wide open with a special device.
- The actual laser procedure was like taking a picture and took only a second.
- He pressed a button. It felt like a quick electric shock, and it was done.
Even though the treatment was complete, he kept me there in the waiting room since he needed to check my pressure an hour later. It was fine.
I felt no pain and was able to drive myself home after that.
Healing Period After the Laser Procedure
My doctor prescribed a medication (drops) that I had to put in my eye each day for a week to keep it from getting infected. He also told me to be careful not to get water in my eyes while showering.
After the procedure, I no longer needed to use eye drops to control the pressure. It continued to stay normal, around 16. I continue to have it checked annually, and over 20 years later, I'm still okay.
Treating the Other Eye with Laser Iridotomy Years Later
A couple of years after the first incident, my doctor found the pressure in my other eye was starting to go up. He asked if I wanted to do the same laser treatment, just to be safe.
I was lucky with the right eye. If my pressure happens to spike randomly in my left eye, we may miss the diagnosis until it's too late.
I was so satisfied with the results of the first procedure that I decided to have it done with my left eye too.
On my annual ophthalmology checkups, my doctor checks the pinhole that was made by the laser to be sure it's still open. If it should ever heal shut, the Laser Iridotomy could be done again.
Now, over two decades later, my pressure has always been around 15 or 16, which is normal. I never needed to use eye drops anymore. It's as if I don't have glaucoma anymore.
Video Showing Procedure of Laser Iridotomy
- Ninita Helen Brown, MD, PhD. (April 4, 2018). “Pigmentary Glaucoma: Answers to Your Questions.” Glaucoma Research Foundation
- Shan Lin, MD. (October 1, 2020). “Laser Iridotomy: Frequently Asked Questions.” Glaucoma Research Foundation
- Steve Repsys. (October 26, 2017), “How Long Can Your Brain Survive Without Oxygen?” azcentral.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: After I had a laser iridotomy procedure on my eye, I had a headache. Is that normal?
Answer: Before the laser iridotomy procedure, your doctor gives you drops that make the pupil small. That causes the iris to expand so the doctor can find the best place in the pigment to aim the laser.
The contraction of the pupil may cause a mild headache, but it shouldn’t last long. However, if you have an ongoing headache, or worse, if you become nauseous, see halos, or have pain in the eye, your angle may have closed up again. A narrow angle is one cause of glaucoma.
The iridotomy widens the angle to allow drainage, which keeps the pressure in the eye at a normal level.
If the angle closes up, you might need a second procedure. In a few cases, laser iridotomy doesn’t work with just one procedure. Your doctor should schedule a follow up to check your pressure.
Take this situation seriously. If your pressure is high for an extended period, you could lose your vision.
© 2012 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 25, 2018:
guillermo arcinas - You are asking me for a recommendation of pharmaceuticals that will help your glaucoma and cataract. Only your doctor can do that for you.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 16, 2012:
Sandy, Yes everything is fine now. The laser treatment kept it under control without medication required any longer. Thanks for your comment.
Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on October 16, 2012:
You sure went through an ordeal. Glaucoma is no laughing matter. I am glad that everything is good now sense your treatment.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 11, 2012:
Dave, Mine is narrow angle glaucoma also. My father had it too. When I have my pupils dilated I also wear sunglasses to go home. It's interesting that the laser treatment didn't help. I'm off the drops ever since then. Does your doctor say the pinhole is still there?
I only needed one hole, but I remember my doctor telling me that if it didn't work, he may need to make several holes in a circular fashion around the perimeter of the iris. Maybe you need more, especially if your angle is so narrow that you have a huge amount of pigment of the iris rubbing off. That's what causes the problem with narrow angle glaucoma. Ask your eye doctor about that.
Davesworld from Cottage Grove, MN 55016 on October 11, 2012:
I describe the process as getting poked in the eye with a stick, or at least that's how it felt to me. I had it done three or four years ago. I did not drive myself home - they wouldn't let me. My pressures are NOT down, they remain high normal, but then I have a congenital problem (narrow angle glaucoma) and have been taking drops for almost 30 years.
Interesting, there is no restrictions on me when the eyes are dilated. All they ask is that I have sunglasses, and if I say yes they are happy.
Glaucoma is one of the nastier things around. You don't know you have a problem until your vision is seriously impaired. I went in for checkups when I was 35 on the advice of my father's doctor who suggested in might be hereditary - it was.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 11, 2012:
One cannot drive immediately after an eye exam because his or her pupils were dilated for the exam. But I am talking about Laser Iridotomy, which does not change one's vision from the process. Thanks for stopping by.
C L Grant from United Kingdom on October 10, 2012:
Congratulations! I am so pleased to hear that your surgery was successful. We tend to take all our senses of granted but the possibility of losing one's sight is devastating.
Am rather surprised you were allowed to drive yourself home after laser treatment. A relative of mine is being monitored for glaucoma and they are not allowed to drive following each examination, let alone treatment!