Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Resulting vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve.
Currently, more than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase, and the World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States.
Glaucoma can occur at any age but is more common in older adults. The most common form of glaucoma has no warning signs. The effect is so gradual that you may not notice a change in vision until the condition is at an advanced stage.
To help you understand the diagnosis and prevention of glaucoma, here are some tips on risk factors, treatment and prevention from VeryWell Health:
Your eye is filled with a clear fluid which your body is continuously replacing. More fluid enters the eye in the back and the excess fluid drains through the front. As you age, the “drains” for the fluid become narrow and the eye cannot drain the excess fluid quickly enough. This fluid builds up and pressure increases in the eye. If the pressure gets high enough, it can damage the optic nerve because the pressure restricts the flow of blood to the nerve. This can cause vision loss and even blindness.
The signs and symptoms of glaucoma vary depending on the type and stage of your condition. For example:
- Patchy blind spots in your side (peripheral) or central vision, frequently in both eyes
- Tunnel vision in the advanced stages
Acute angle-closure glaucoma
- Severe headache
- Eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Eye redness
If left untreated, glaucoma will eventually cause blindness. Even with treatment, about 15 percent of people with glaucoma become blind in at least one eye within 20 years.
Glaucoma seems to run in families. If a close relative has had glaucoma, you are at higher risk for the condition. People of African heritage are also at high risk for glaucoma.
Additional risk factors include:
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over age 60
- Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia
- Having certain eye conditions, such as nearsightedness
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
- Early estrogen deficiency, such as can occur after removal of both ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy) before age 43
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time
For most cases of age-related glaucoma, prescription eye drops can relieve the pressure in the eye, preventing further damage. These eye drops do not “cure” glaucoma, but will usually prevent any loss of vision due to the condition.
Early detection is critical to preventing glaucoma. People older than 40 should see an eye doctor at least every five years. Diabetics should visit an eye doctor yearly and people with elevated risk factors for glaucoma should also have more frequent appointments with an eye doctor.
Vision loss due to glaucoma can’t be recovered. So it’s important to have regular eye exams that include measurements of your eye pressure. If glaucoma is recognized early, vision loss can be slowed or prevented. If you have the condition, you’ll generally need treatment for the rest of your life.
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