Glaucoma Awareness Month Increases Awareness of The Sight-Stealing Eye Disease
Glaucoma affects more than three million people in the U.S., according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, yet many people are unaware that they have the disease. Glaucoma Awareness Month, observed every January, draws attention to the symptoms of this disease, helping countless people avoid vision loss.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma occurs when high pressure inside your eye damages your optic nerve. The nerve transmits light impulses between the eyes and the brain. Once the impulses reach the brain, they're transformed into recognizable images. If the impulse transmission is disrupted anywhere along the optic nerve, partial or complete vision loss can occur.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Poor drainage is responsible for the increase in pressure in the eye. The aqueous humor, a clear fluid that fills the space between the lens and cornea, drains from the eye through a network of tiny channels. If the drainage channels become blocked, eye pressure rises, increasing the risk of optic nerve damage. (The lens of the eye is located behind your iris and pupil and focuses light on your retina, while the cornea is the clear layer of tissue that covers the iris and pupil.)
What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma symptoms vary depending on the type of the disease. If you have primary open-angle glaucoma, the pressure inside your eye increases gradually. Although you may not notice any symptoms initially, the disease can slowly impair your vision. If primary open-angle glaucoma isn't diagnosed and treated promptly, you'll eventually notice blind spots in your field of vision.
Acute angle-closure glaucoma happens suddenly and can occur if part of your iris blocks the drainage canals, preventing fluid from leaving your eye. If you have acute angle-closure glaucoma, your vision may become blurry, and you may see halos around lights.
Other symptoms may include severe pain in your eye, headache, redness in the white part of your eye, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately. Prompt treatment is essential if you have this form of glaucoma.
In some cases, optic nerve damage can occur even if the pressure inside your eye is normal. Called normal-tension glaucoma, this form of the disease can eventually damage your peripheral vision.
Who Gets Glaucoma?
Although anyone can develop glaucoma, you may be at increased risk if:
- You're Over Age 60 (Or Over Age 40 if You're African American)
- You Have Heart Disease, Diabetes or High Blood Pressure
- You're Native Alaskan, African American or of Asian Descent
- Other Members of Your Family Have Had Glaucoma
- You Injured Your Eye or Had Surgery on Your Eye
- You're Severely Nearsighted
- You Used Corticosteroids
- You Have Irregularities in Your Cornea or Optic Nerve
What Treatment Options Are Available?
Prescription eye drops are often used to treat primary open-angle glaucoma. Depending on the type, the drops may lower the amount of fluid your eye produces or increase fluid drainage. In some cases, oral medication may be needed in addition to drops.
Laser or traditional surgery is usually required if you have acute open-angle glaucoma or if primary open-angle glaucoma has not responded well to eye drops. During surgery, your ophthalmologist may make tiny holes in your iris to improve drainage, create new drainage channels, place a drainage tube in your eye, or reduce pressure by damaging the part of the eye that makes aqueous humor.
Medication or surgery is also used to treat normal-tension glaucoma.
How Can I Avoid Vision Loss Due to Glaucoma?
Annual eye examinations offer a simple way to protect your eyesight. During your exam, your ophthalmologist measures your eye pressure and uses drops to dilate your pupil. Once the pupil is dilated, he or she has a better view of your retina and optic nerve.
Dilation is a particularly important part of your eye exam, as subtle changes to the optic nerve can be a warning sign of glaucoma. If you're diagnosed with glaucoma, you'll immediately begin treatment to protect your sight.
Don't let glaucoma damage your vision. Contact our office to schedule your appointment.