Did you know that glaucoma is among the leading causes of blindness in the world? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), African Americans are the most affected group compared to Caucasians. Glaucoma is a serious hereditary eye condition that could potentially lead to loss of vision and eventually, total blindness. It’s actually a cluster of diseases that damage the optic nerve which connects the retina (a light-sensitive tissue at the back of our eyes) to the brain. Unfortunately, glaucoma cannot be cured and vision loss is irreversible. But, early detection of glaucoma could help protect your eyes from blindness.
Causes of Glaucoma
Until recently, the main cause of glaucoma was thought to be the increased pressure in the eyes due to a build-up of fluid which blocks the drainage canals. However, eye pressure is a risk factor rather than the cause.
New findings now suggest that glaucoma may be caused by an immune response to bacterial exposure in the eyes. A report by researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and MIT shows that the presence of bacteria in the eyes trigger the release of heat shock proteins. These proteins mistake the neurons in the retina as foreign bodies and attack them.
Other risk factors that can cause glaucoma include:
- Family history. Chances of developing glaucoma are high if a parent or sibling has the condition
- High myopia or a severe form of nearsightedness.
- Eye injury or surgery.
- Diabetes and high blood pressure.
- A very thin cornea which slows down the flow of the fluid in your eyes.
- Your age and ethnicity. African Americans aged 40 and above are at high risk while for Mexican Americans, the risk factors are higher for those aged 60 and above.
Signs of Glaucoma
In its early stages, glaucoma is difficult to detect. It develops gradually and by the time you realize your vision is deteriorating, you’ll already have lost half the neurons. This lack of symptoms for glaucoma makes it critical to get regular checkups to ensure early detection.
Glaucoma tends to develop abruptly and some of the symptoms include:
- Loss of side vision.
- Blurred or hazy vision.
- A sudden and severe pain in the head and eyes.
- Nausea with or without vomiting.
- Seeing rainbow rings and halo around bright lights, especially at night.
- Cloudy eyes.
- Redness around the eyes.
- Tenderness around the eyes
Unfortunately, if a blindness occurs before glaucoma is diagnosed, the process becomes irreversible. Early detection and treatment can help prevent further damage to your eyes’ optic nerves.
The kind of treatment you receive depends on the type of glaucoma you have. It’s important to note that regardless of the treatment, it’s not possible to improve sight already lost because of glaucoma. Generally, the recommended treatment for glaucoma include:
- Eye drops or pills. These medicines either lower the pressure by improving fluid drainage or reduce the amount of fluid in the eyes. It’s imperative that you use the eye drops regularly to regulate the pressure.
- Laser trabeculoplasty. High-intensity beam lights are directed towards the drainage canal to stretch it to allow better drainage of the eye fluid.
- Surgery. This is the last resort after medicine and laser treatment have failed to give positive results. The procedure, known as trabeculectomy, involves the creation of a new opening to improve fluid drainage.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two major kinds of glaucoma:
1. Open-Angle Glaucoma
It’s the most common type of glaucoma and very difficult to detect because it’s not painful and takes a long time to manifest itself. In a normal eye, when the fluid reaches the ‘open’ angle, it flows through a spongy meshwork as it leaves the eye. In open-angle glaucoma, the drainage channels become blocked over time causing pressure to build up, hence damaging the optic nerve.
2. Angle-Closure Glaucoma
On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma exhibits painful symptoms due to the sudden blockage of the drainage canal. The fluid is unable to flow through and the pressure becomes too much, hence the sharp pain.
Other types of glaucoma include secondary glaucoma which is caused by eye inflammation and childhood glaucoma which occurs in infants and young children. It’s a rare type of glaucoma and reports indicate that only 1 out of every 10,000 babies might be affected.
Prevention of Glaucoma
A healthy lifestyle is always the first line of defense when it comes to the prevention of glaucoma. You should also exercise regularly and look out for your mental and emotional well-being.
Medical experts recommend:
- Taking a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Physical exercises such as swimming, walking and running.
- Wearing sunglasses and hats to protect your eyes from direct sunlight.
- Going for regular full eye exams.
- Taking prescription eye drops, especially for African Americans.
- Taking lots of dark green, yellow or orange fruits and vegetables such as mango, broccoli, and spinach.
Lastly, make an appointment with your ophthalmologist today for diagnosis. Like we mentioned earlier, glaucoma is undetectable until it’s too late. Stay alert and stay safe.
All images via Pixabay