Glaucoma is one of the many ailments that can affect your eye health and vision as you get older. It’s actually one of the leading causes of blindness and although it can affect people of all ages, the risk increases as you get older. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you’re even more susceptible to it. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, severe nearsightedness, and retinal detachment are also contributing risk factors.
The scariest part of this eye condition is how easily it can go undetected. Over two million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of them are diagnosed cases.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a progressive condition caused by the buildup of excess fluid called aqueous humor behind the eye. With optimal eye health, the fluid supplies the eye with oxygen and nutrients as it circulates through a mesh-like channel. Glaucoma occurs when the aqueous humor blocks the channel, causing a buildup of fluid that puts pressure on the optic nerve. This is what leads to vision impairment. If left untreated, the pressure will continue to build until it gradually leads to blindness. There’s currently no real explanation for what causes the blockage, which means there’s no cure for it yet.
There are five different types of glaucoma:
• Primary open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common type that affects older adults, especially over 50. It usually starts with blind spots forming on the eye.
• Anglo-closure glaucoma: This can be chronic or intermittent. The buildup of fluid causes the iris of the eye to be pushed forward.
• Normal-tension glaucoma: The pressure behind the eye is normal, but damage still occurs. It is believed this is because of poor blood flow to the eye.
• Pigmentary glaucoma: This commonly affects younger people who are nearsighted. The pigment layer in the eye rubs against the iris, leading to a blockage.
• Traumatic glaucoma: This is glaucoma that’s caused by an injury, often appearing years after the injury occurs.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
The symptoms will range depending on what type of glaucoma you have. For primary open-angle glaucoma, common symptoms include progressive peripheral vision loss followed by tunnel vision in the later stages. Symptoms of acute angle-closure glaucoma—the other commonly seen type—include pain in the eye area, nausea, blurry vision, halos around light, and red eyes.
Unfortunately, once vision has been lost because of glaucoma, it can’t be recovered, but treating it can prevent further vision loss. That’s why early detection is critical. If you find yourself suffering from any of these symptoms, visit your optometrist immediately. When it comes to your eye health and vision, you can never be too careful.
Because there’s no immediate pain or discomfort from the buildup of pressure that causes glaucoma, many people don’t even realize that they have it until it is too late. That’s why it’s so important, especially as you get older, to continue having regular check-ups with your eye doctor; you should ideally go every year, especially if you’re at a heightened risk for it.
If it’s caught early enough, there are a number of treatment options for glaucoma, depending on what stage you’re at. It can be something as simple as eye drops or oral medication to reduce the buildup of fluid, to laser surgery that clears up blockages. Microsurgery is also used to create new channels for the flow of aqueous humor.
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