Glaucoma is the number one cause of blindness in adults over 60, but it can affect people of any age. There aren’t a lot of warning signs for glaucoma and the best way to know if you have it is to have regular eye exams.
The disease is progressive and there are very few early warning signs. However, without treatment, it can lead to blindness. Glaucoma happens when the pressure in the eye is too high and it damages the optic nerve. When the pressure increases the damage further then it can lead to vision loss and eventually lead to going blind.
Open-angle glaucoma is the more common type of glaucoma and it doesn’t have any symptoms prior to peripheral vision loss. You may notice that you experience blind spots or patchy vision. Vision loss caused by glaucoma can’t be reversed and early detection is necessary in order to minimize potential damage.
Causes of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve. When the nerve starts to gradually deteriorate then you experience blind spots in your visual field. Doctors don’t fully understand the reasons, but the nerve damage is related to higher pressure in the eye. Higher eye pressure can be because of a buildup of fluid that flows through the inside of the eye. Fluid normally drains out of the eye, but if the drainage doesn’t work properly or fluid is overproduced then eye pressure increases.
Types of Glaucoma
There are different types of glaucoma.
Open-Angle Glaucoma: With this type of glaucoma, the drainage angle formed by the iris and cornea stays open, but then the trabecular meshwork is blocked. This means the pressure starts to increase. It happens slowly so this is why many people aren’t aware there is a problem until there is vision loss.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma: This type of glaucoma happens when the iris swells forward and blocks the drainage angle. Fluid isn’t able to circulate and it increases the pressure. Some patients have smaller drainage angles and this puts them at an increased risk for this type of glaucoma. This glaucoma can occur suddenly or gradually.
Normal-Tension Glaucoma: With this type of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged but the eye pressure is still within a normal range. There isn’t an exact reason for this and it could be due to less blood supply to the optic nerve or a sensitive optic nerve.
Pigmentary Glaucoma: During pigmentary glaucoma, some pigment granules from the iris build up in the drainage channels and block fluid exiting the eye. Certain activities, such as jogging, can stir up pigment granules and deposit them on the trabecular meshwork and this causes pressure changes.
Glaucoma in Children: Children and infants can also have glaucoma, even though it’s more common in older adults. It could be present from birth or develop in the first years of life. The optic nerve can be damaged by an underlying medical condition or drainage blockage.
How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed?
The best way to find glaucoma early on and to start treatment, in order to slow or stop the spread, is with regular eye exams. During an exam, an eye doctor dilates your pupils and measures the eye pressure to make sure the levels are within normal range. If the levels are too high then the doctor will assess the eyes to see if you have glaucoma. The goal is to get a diagnosis before any vision loss happens. A visual field test can be used to check peripheral vision in order to make sure you aren’t losing your side vision, which can also be a sign.
When Is Glaucoma Considered a Medical Emergency?
Angle-closure glaucoma is a less common form of the disease and can involve acute attacks. This type of glaucoma has certain symptoms, including eye pain, redness and eye irritation, blurred vision, vomiting and nausea, intense headache, and halos around lights. If you are experiencing these symptoms then you could be having an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack and this is considered a medical emergency. Eyes that look hazy can be a common side effect of glaucoma in children.
Loss of side or peripheral vision can typically be the first sign of glaucoma. Vision loss, if it happens suddenly, can also be considered. Since some of these symptoms are also related to other eye conditions, you want to get in to see your eye doctor right away.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Everybody should be screened for glaucoma during a routine eye exam. These exams begin in adulthood, especially if you are older. There are some risk factors for glaucoma that can increase the chances of developing the disease.
- Genetics: Glaucoma is considered hereditary and it runs in the family. If someone in your immediate family also has glaucoma then you could be up to nine times more likely to also develop it.
- Age: Glaucoma is more common in adults over age 60.
- Race: People of African descent, Asian descent, and Hispanics are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma and it can be found even earlier, beginning at age 40.
- Corticosteroid Use: The use of medications, such as corticosteroids, can raise the risk.
- Diabetes, Hypertension, Thin Corneas, and Extreme Myopia: Biological factors, such as chronic eye inflammation and corneal thickness, and medical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, can increase the pressure in your eye and then increase your risk of glaucoma.
- Eye Trauma: Injury to the eye can also increase the pressure and then lead to glaucoma.
There are some preventative measures that can help minimize your risk. While you may not be able to control developing glaucoma, there are steps to keep your eyes as healthy as possible and then catch the development as early as you can. The best thing you can do is get routine eye exams in order to catch glaucoma early. Eat a nutritious and well-rounded diet and stay hydrated. Regulate your caffeine intake and don’t smoke. Participate in regular exercise in order to promote blood flow. Protect eyes from trauma, the sun and injury, and wear eye protection.
Slowing Glaucoma Progression
Once you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you can help slow the progression and prevent vision loss if you take certain steps. Be sure to get regular eye exams so you can monitor your eye pressure. There can be different measures you can take in order to lower the eye pressure with surgeries, laser procedures, or medications. Often eye drops are needed. Be sure to follow the directions from your doctor and eye care provider. You should take any prescriptions as directed and if there are side effects or vision changes, report them to your doctor. In order to keep the pressure in your eyes lower, it may be recommended to sleep with your head elevated and keep it above your heart. You should also talk to your eye doctor about exercise in order to make sure you are staying in a healthy weight range. Glaucoma is considered a progressive disease. Once you start losing your vision, you aren’t able to reverse it so it’s best to stop future vision loss and slow it down. Keeping your eye pressure under control is key to slowing progression and preventing blindness. With the proper treatment, most people don’t lose their vision from glaucoma.
Contact Florida Eye Specialists and Cataract Institute
Early detection with regular eye exams is the best way to limit vision loss caused by glaucoma. Since there aren’t many early signs of the disease it can be hard to know when to get treatment. If you do experience some of the signs associated with acute-closure glaucoma, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Contact Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute to schedule an appointment today!