Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions that damage your optic nerve, which is vital for good vision. This is usually cause by abnormally high eye pressure. Glaucoma is more common in adults and is the leading cause of blindness in those over 60.
Most forms of glaucoma do not present warning signs. The effect is very gradual and you might not notice a change in vision until the condition is quite advanced.
Regular eye exams that include measurement of your eye pressure are important because vision loss due to glaucoma cannot be recovered, so diagnosing glaucoma in the early stages and treating it appropriately. Vision loss can be slowed or prevented altogether. If you do have the condition you’ll usually need lifelong treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
There are multiple types of glaucoma that have different signs and symptoms. Open-angle glaucoma is the kind of glaucoma you’re most likely to get. This condition is slow to develop and since initial vision loss is from the peripheral vision the patient may not notice until the disease is advanced. Some signs of open-angle glaucoma include: patchy blind spots in peripheral or center vision, usually in both eyes, in advanced stages, tunnel vision.
Less common is acute angle-closure glaucoma in which the drainage angle where your iris meets your cornea is closed in most areas which causes increased eye pressure which results in optic nerve damage and potential loss of vision. There are early stages of the condition where the angle is closed but the eye pressure may or may not be heightened and the optic nerve has not yet been affected. The symptoms are noticed and the damage occurs quickly so if you notice any of the following symptoms present go see an ophthalmologist immediately: eye pain, nausea and vomiting, halos around lights, blurred vision, severe headache, and eye redness. If left untreated either type of glaucoma would cause blindness and even with treatment 15% of people with glaucoma will become blind within 20 years in at least one eye.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to diagnose glaucoma your doctor will first review your medical history and conduct an eye examination. They will perform tests including: dilated eye examination and imaging tests, measuring intraocular pressure, measuring corneal thickness, checking for areas of vision loss, and inspecting the drainage angle.
The damage glaucoma causes is irreversible, but treatment and regular checkups can help slow and prevent vision loss, especially if the disease is caught in the early stages.
Glaucoma treatment involves lowering your eye pressure which may involve oral medications, eyedrops, surgery, laser treatment, or a combination of these.
Eyedrops are often the first step in treatment; they can improve how fluid drains from your eyes or decrease the amount of fluid made by your eye. Depending on how much your eye pressure needs to be lowered you may need more than one eyedrop. If eyedrops alone don’t lower your eye pressure enough you may also be prescribed an oral medication, in most situations it will be an anhydrase inhibitor. Laser therapy and surgical procedures are also an option for glaucoma, the options include: laser therapy, drainage tubes, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery, or filtering surgery.
If you have acute angle-closure glaucoma that is considered a medical emergency which requires immediate medical treatment. Generally this will require both surgical/laser procedures and prescription medications.
There are lifestyle changes you can make in order to promote eye health and control high eye pressure such as:
- Maintaining a healthy diet – to maintain your health, there are several nutrients and vitamins essential to eye health including: copper, zinc, vitamins C, E, and A, as well as selenium
- Safely exercise – regular exercise can reduce pressure in open-angle glaucoma
- Limit your caffeine – drinking excessive amounts of caffeine can increase your eye pressure
- Sip fluids often – only drink moderate amounts of fluids at any time during the day, drinking more than a quart of fluid at any given time can temporarily increase eye pressure.
- Sleep with an elevated head – Use a wedge pillow to keep your head raised (about a 20 degree angle)
- Take prescribed medicine – using any prescribed eyedrops and other medications can help you get the best results from your treatment, use the medication as prescribed otherwise your nerve damage could worsen.