Glaucoma is a term that refers to a group of eye disorders. These disorders occur because of a build up of pressure in the eye. This build up of pressure can lead to damage to the optic nerve and permanent blindness. Glaucoma is the number one cause of permanent blindness worldwide. It is estimated that 6 million people are blind in both eyes due to glaucoma. The American Academy of Ophthamology (AAO) estimates that over 2 million people in the US have the most common type of glaucoma known as primary open angle glaucoma and they expect that number to increase to over 3 million by 2020 as the population ages.
Glaucoma is most common in adults over the age of 40, however, it can occur at any age including infants. Glaucoma occurs at an earlier age more frequently in African-Americans and they usually experience a greater loss of vision. Other risk factors include a family history, certain diseases like diabetes and certain medications like prednisone.
There are 2 main classifications of glaucoma that the different types fall into:
1. Open angle glaucoma is the most common. In this classification the eye appears normal, however, the drainage system that is responsible for maintaining the flow of the fluid in the eye know as the vitrius becomes clogged. This prevents the fluid from draining properly and increases the pressure in the eye. There are several ‘types’ of glaucoma that fall into this category.
2. Angle closure glaucoma or narrow angle glaucoma is less common in the western world, however, is very common in areas like Asia. This category of glaucoma can be acute or chronic. Again here the fluid in the eye is not draining properly therefore increasing the pressure in the eye. The pressure can rise very suddenly in this category because in these types the drain field becomes blocked preventing drainage, unlike in open angle glaucoma where it’s clogged. People that have small eyes are more prone to this category because they have narrow drainage angles.
There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of open angle or chronic angle closure glaucoma. By the time you experience any vision loss it’s already late in the disease. However, in acute angle closure glaucoma there are often severe symptoms that develop rapidly including eye pain, headache, nausea and vomiting and your vision will blur.
If you have risk factors associated with glaucoma you should consider getting an eye exam for your 40th birthday as glaucoma is painless ans the symptoms don’t appear until late in the disease. Remember, unlike cataracts the damage done by glaucoma is permanent, irreversible. The eye doctor will advise you of a safe schedule for exams if you are at risk. Glaucoma can be controlled by managing the pressure in the eye. The most common method for this is the use of eye drops. The problem is that because there are no symptoms many don’t realize the importance of using the drops as ordered by your doctor and forget to put them in. Non-compliance with medications is the leading cause of nerve damage in diagnosed cases of glaucoma.
As always I believe prevention is always better than treating. There have been several studies that link cardiac health to glaucoma. People that exercise and lead a healthy life style had significantly decreased incidence of glaucoma.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.