National Glaucoma Awareness Month – January
The second leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders leading to progressive damage of the optic nerve and is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in vision loss.
In most cases, glaucoma is associated with higher-than-normal pressure inside the eye (ocular hypertension). If untreated or uncontrolled, glaucoma first causes peripheral vision loss and eventually can lead to blindness. Globally, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness (behind cataracts), according to the World Health Organization.
Types and Causes of Glaucoma
There are many types of glaucoma and many theories about the causes of glaucoma, but the exact cause is unknown. The two main types are open-angle and acute angle-closure. Distinguishing both types is a marked increase of intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye).
What Risk Factors Affect Glaucoma?
Because chronic forms of glaucoma can destroy vision before any signs or symptoms are apparent, be aware of the following risk factors:
- Elevated Internal Eye Pressure. If your internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure) is higher than normal, you are at increased risk of developing glaucoma — though not everyone with elevated intraocular pressure develops the disease.
- Age. People over age 60 are at increased risk for the disease. Elderly adults over age 80 have three to ten times the risk of developing glaucoma as individuals in their 40s. For African Americans, however, the increase in risk begins after age 40.
- Race/Ethnicity. African Americans are significantly more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasians and are much more likely to suffer permanent vision loss as a result. People of Asian descent have an increased risk of developing acute angle-closure glaucoma.
- Family History. Having a family history of glaucoma increases your risk of developing glaucoma.
- Medical Conditions. Some studies indicate that diabetes may increase your risk of developing glaucoma, as do high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Eye Injury. Severe trauma to the eye can result in immediate increased eye pressure and future increases in pressure due to internal damage. Injury can also dislocate the lens, closing the drainage angle and increasing pressure.
- Other Eye-related Risk Factors. Eye anatomy (namely corneal thickness and optic nerve appearance) indicate risk for development of glaucoma. Conditions such as retinal detachment, eye tumors, and eye inflammations may also induce glaucoma. Some studies suggest that high amounts of nearsightedness may also be a risk factor for the development of glaucoma.
- Corticosteroid Use. Using corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time appears to put some people at risk of getting secondary glaucoma.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from the increased pressure, so it is important to see your eye doctor regularly to diagnose and treat glaucoma before long-term visual loss occurs.
Glaucoma Treatment Options
While there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve eyesight. Nerve damage and vision loss from glaucoma cannot usually be reversed; however, glaucoma can generally be controlled.
The treatment of glaucoma is aimed at reducing intraocular pressure. The most common first-line treatment of glaucoma is usually prescription eye drops. In some cases, systemic medications, laser treatment and/or another surgery may be required.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Glaucoma?
When it comes to glaucoma, risk reduction is a simple matter of damage control. Aside from following healthy lifestyle recommendations, we have little control over whether we develop glaucoma.
If you are over the age of 40 and if you have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently.
Schedule a comprehensive eye exam and find out which Glaucoma risk factors may affect you.