In this article I’ll share some information about what is glaucoma, what causes it, the different types, how do you find it, what are some risk factors for this eye problem and lastly how is it treated.
It is a disease that results from damage to the nerve fibers carrying images from the eye to the brain. The optic nerve is like a cable made up of many fibers (like wires). Once damage occurs blind spots appear in your visual field. As you can imagine it takes time for enough fibers to be damages for recognition of a blind spot. Blindness can result.
In the USA it is the leading cause of adult blindness.
Has to do with the liquid circulating in the front part of the eye. What did you think gives the eyeball it’s shape? This liquid has nothing to do with tears. It is a clear liquid –aqueous humor– that circulates maintaining just the correct pressure level. This is critical for us to maintaining clear vision. The fluid is produced and drains within the eye. Anything that stops either activity will effects the pressure balance and our vision. Since the eye is a closed structure the increased pressure will compress and injure the optic nerve.
With increasing age the eye drainage angle becomes less efficient. Slowly blockage occurs, chronic open angle glaucoma starts as eyeball tension increases. This is the most common type of glaucoma in our country. Treatment is necessary to stop vision loss. Bad news is that in it’s early stages this condition is silent! In everyday life you might not notice blank spots until one day enough damage has occurred to the nerve and the spots have become large enough to be noticed. Remember if the optic nerve fibers goes -so does you vision.
In some of us, our eyes were formed with the iris (colored part) to close to the drainage angle. Likely these people are farsighted and have small eyes. Again since the fluid can’t drain normally, the eye pressure increases quickly and causes an acute attack of closed angle glaucoma. Commonly people say they have blurred vision with rainbow-colored halos around lights. They might have severe eye pain, headache, nausea and even vomiting. This condition can develop slowly before a sudden attack occurs-this is a true emergency-so get to a ophthalmologist – Eye doctor or an ER ASAP – unless treated quickly you will loose your vision.
There are many factors that can increase the likelihood of developing glaucoma, but most important are:
- Elevated eye pressure
- Family history of glaucoma
- Past eye injury
- Far or nearsightedness
- African/Hispanic descent
- Other conditions: diabetes, migraines, circulation problems
Knowing your risks factors might cause your doctor to exam you more often. So always be honest about your medical history.
As I hinted glaucoma cause damage that can not be reversed. However medicated eye drops and laser surgery can reduce pressure and help prevent further damage. In certain people oral medications are also prescribed.
Eye drops may act by increasing flow through the drainage angle while other drops decrease production of aqueous humor. Eye drops can often control glaucoma however they must be used daily and exactly as instructed. Never stop or change medication without consulting your ophthalmologist. If you are about to run out – get a refill – you can’t miss a dose! If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma you’ll need to see your doctor likely every 3-6 months. If you notice any changes to your vision let your doctor know immediately- do not wait for your next appointment.
Like any other medication these eye drops can have side effects and or interact with other medications. Some eye drops can cause changes in your heart rate, your energy level even your breathing. Your eye doctor needs to know all your medical conditions especially if you have asthma or emphysema.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults with no signs of nor risk factor for glaucoma get eye disease screening starting at age 40.
After age 65, an eye exam should be done every one to two years or as your eye doctor recommends.
– If you have any risk factors or eye problems get a through exam not a quickie at the mall.