Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and affects more than 80 million people across the globe. Since January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take a closer look at a disease that is robbing so many of their sight.
What Causes Glaucoma?
The most common causes is intraocular pressure that damages the optic nerve in the eye. Most of the time, the pressure is caused by fluid build-up in the eye. In some cases, the eye produces too much fluid. In other cases, the channel the fluid flows through gets blocked. Eye injuries and severe infections can also cause glaucoma but are less common.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two major types of glaucoma. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common and is the result of the eye not draining fluid properly. Initially, this type causes no vision issues and is painless. It can develop slowly, making it essential to get regular eye exams to detect it early. Some of the symptoms include patchy or blind spots in your peripheral vision and tunnel vision.
Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris of the eye is too close to the drainage angle and ends up blocking the drainage. This can occur very suddenly and causes the intraocular pressure to rise quickly, causing an acute attack. In this instance, it is critical to see your eye doctor immediately to prevent permanent blindness. If you experience sudden blurry vision, severe eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, or see “halos” around lights, you should get treatment right away.
- Certain medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and sickle cell anemia
- Family history of the disease
- Use of corticosteroid medications, particularly eyedrops for extended periods of time
- African American, Asian or Hispanic descent
- Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Over the age of 60
There are a number of things you can do to help prevent glaucoma such as regular exercise to reduce eye pressure, wearing eye protection to avoid injury and knowing your family’s history so you can schedule more frequent screenings. The most important thing you can do is schedule regular comprehensive eye exams to detect it early before vision loss occurs. Talk to your eye doctor to determine how often you should be getting comprehensive eye exams and remember – it is virtually symptomless in the early stages but can progress to complete blindness if left untreated. Early and frequent screenings, especially if you are at risk, are critical to catching it in the beginning stages and starting treatment. Your eye doctor may prescribe eyedrops, oral medication, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of treatments.