What Is Glaucoma? Causes,
Symptoms, and Treatment
Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that can cause partial or full vision loss if not diagnosed early on. Like with many health concerns, early detection is essential.
Getting your eyes examined annually can help detect eye damage and potential blindness that can be caused by glaucoma. While symptoms can vary from patient to patient, many people don’t experience symptoms until vision loss has occurred. Learn more about glaucoma, its symptoms and how you can help prevent vision loss.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a degenerative disease that develops after damage to the optic nerve and the causes vary depending on the type of glaucoma. Largely, glaucoma is due to an increase in intraocular pressure. As for congenital glaucoma, this is not a common disease and it manifests during the first 3 years of life and may be the cause of inadequate development of the eye's aqueous humor drainage system. In some cases, glaucoma can be the result of other illnesses and is known as secondary glaucoma. Among these diseases are diabetes and high blood pressure, among others.
Types of Glaucoma
There are several types of glaucoma, so it is important to differentiate their characteristics:
- Open-angle glaucoma: This type of glaucoma is the most common. It occurs when the angle of drainage formed by the iris and the cornea remains open, causing fluid from the eye (also called aqueous fluid) to go into the drain and fail to empty properly, which generates a gradual increase in pressure in the eye.
- Angle-closure glaucoma: Opposite to the type of glaucoma mentioned above, this type of glaucoma occurs when the iris becomes inflamed. This inflammation blocks the drainage angle totally or partially, causing an obstruction, which prevents the circulation of the aqueous liquid, thus increasing the internal pressure of the eye. This type of glaucoma can appear suddenly or progressively.
- Childhood glaucoma: There is a percentage of children who may suffer from glaucoma at an early age or even be born with the condition. The optic nerve can be affected by total or partial obstruction of drainage, eye injury, or due to an underlying disease.
According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, studies by various groups of researchers have found that open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among people of Hispanic descent over the age of 40.
In a study on ocular conditions in Latinos carried out in the city of Los Angeles, financed by the National Eye Institute, it was reported that close to 5% of the population suffers from open-angle glaucoma, and that people over 60 years of age are at a much higher risk of glaucoma. Another intriguing statistic was the fact that more than 75% of Hispanic people diagnosed with glaucoma did not know they had the disease.
The National Eye Institute study concluded that Latinos/Hispanics are more likely to develop visual impairment such as glaucoma, blindness, and cataracts compared to Caucasians.
Glaucoma symptoms can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Possible symptoms of open-angle glaucoma include:
- Sudden blurred vision
- Eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Tunnel vision in the later stages
- Slow loss pf peripheral vision
- Appearance of dark or blind spots in side or peripheral vision
- Difficulty seeing things in central vision
People with narrow-angle should be treated immediately or blindness could occur within 1-2 days. Symptoms can include:
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Reddening of the eye
- Visual disturbance
- Nausea and vomiting
- Halos around lights
- Severe headache
Childhood glaucoma may present the following symptoms:
- Increased blinking or constant blinking
- Watery eyes without the child crying
- Blurred vision
- Accelerated progress of myopia in the child
If you think you are experiencing glaucoma symptoms, schedule your eye exam today.
Treatments for Glaucoma
Glaucoma is treated by lowering your eye pressure. Depending on the severity of your condition, our trained optometrists may recommend:
- Prescription eye drops: Eye drops are the most common form of treatment. Some help lower pressure by improving how fluid drains from the eyes, while others can help decrease the amount of fluid produced by the eyes.
- Oral medications: This medication is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that helps control eye pressure.
- Laser treatment: This is the step to follow when eye drop treatments do not work or the eyes do not tolerate their use. The ophthalmologist will use laser treatment to improve the functioning of the tissues located in the drainage angle where the iris and cornea meet. This treatment can take weeks to show results.
- Surgical procedures: If laser treatments fail, surgical procedures are the last option available to treat glaucoma. Among the different surgical options are filtration surgery (trabeculectomy), drainage tube implantation, or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery. Depending on the symptoms present, the type of glaucoma that occurs, and the results with the previous treatments, the doctor will determine which of the surgical procedures is the best.
How to Prevent Glaucoma
There are a few ways to decrease your chances of getting glaucoma:
- Exercise Regularly: A healthy exercise routine can help reduce eye pressure in open-angle glaucoma patients.
- Limit Your Caffeine: Drinking beverages with large amounts of caffeine may increase your eye pressure.
- Sleep With Your Head Elevated: Keeping your head slightly raised has been shown to reduce intraocular eye pressure while you sleep.
- Eat A Balanced Diet: Eating foods high in zinc, copper, selenium, and antioxidant vitamins C, E, and A have been shown to improve eye health.
- Follow Everyday Eye Care Tips: Taking a few preventative tips, like wearing sunglasses and resting your eyes, can help keep your eyes healthier for longer.
Find Out If You Have Glaucoma
There are several ways that your optometrist will check for glaucoma during your annual comprehensive eye exam:
- Visual Field Test: There are various types of visual field tests, but the purpose of each is to determine what can be seen straight ahead, below, above and to either side when focusing on a single point. This helps evaluate where your peripheral vision begins and ends.
- Puff Test: A tonometer is used to measure your intraocular pressure where a puff of air is sent onto your eye’s surface.
- Dilation Drops: Drops are used to dilate the pupil so that the doctor can see through your eye to examine the shape and color of the optic nerve. Then, the doctor uses a small device with a light on the end to magnify the nerve.
To test for glaucoma, schedule an eye exam today.