Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that can lead to irreversible vision loss if left untreated. According to a study by the World Health Organization in 2020, it was estimated that over 79 million people worldwide have glaucoma, with almost half of all cases occurring in the 65 and older age group. Sadly, the number of those living with the condition is expected to double by 2030.
This condition is also common in African-American and Hispanic populations, with both groups disproportionately impacting older adults.
To understand glaucoma better, it is crucial to be aware of its causes, symptoms, treatments, and risk factors. This blog post provides an overview of what you need to know about glaucoma.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition of the eyes that can cause permanent vision loss. It occurs when an increase in pressure in the eyeball damages the optic nerve and results in blind spots or blurred vision.
This pressure buildup, also known as intraocular pressure, can happen for various reasons, including physical blockage of the drain pathways of the eye or build-up of fluid around the eye. Although open-angle glaucoma is the most common type, other types exist, like angle-closure glaucoma, which develops due to a sudden spike in intraocular pressure caused by narrowing angles between the iris and cornea.
Unfortunately, although there are treatments available such as eye drops, laser surgery, and rarely even surgeries involving draining out some lenses from the eye to relieve pressure, once damage caused by glaucoma has occurred, it cannot be reversed.
Therefore, regular checkups with a professional ophthalmologist are essential to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma. They can help identify the risk factors and prescribe treatments accordingly.
Causes of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a severe eye condition that can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. It is estimated that over 3 million Americans are affected by glaucoma, making it one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide. But what exactly causes glaucoma?
- Pressure Build-Up in the Eye – The most common cause of glaucoma is increased pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure or IOP). This happens when fluid builds up within the eye and cannot drain properly, damaging the optic nerve over time and leading to vision loss. People who have higher than average intraocular pressure are at greater risk for developing glaucoma.
- Genetics – Genetics plays an essential role in determining your risk for developing glaucoma. If you have a family history of glaucoma, your risk increases significantly. Additionally, specific ethnic backgrounds like African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics are more likely to develop glaucoma than others.
- Age – Age is another major factor in determining your risk for glaucoma. Older adults (over 60 years old) are much more likely to develop the condition than younger people. This is due to changes in intraocular pressure as we age and a diminished ability for our eyes to adjust quickly to new lighting environments.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
The early stages of glaucoma usually do not have any symptoms until they affect your vision. The most common symptom is a blurred or hazy vision in one or both eyes that may come on suddenly or gradually worsen over time.
Other signs may include seeing halos around lights at night, sensitivity to headlights glare while driving, and difficulty adjusting your eyes from dark to light environments. You may also experience redness in one or both eyes, pain, and headaches.
Treatments for Glaucoma
Treatment for glaucoma depends on how far it has progressed and what type it is (open-angle vs. narrow-angle). Common treatments include prescription eye drops to reduce IOP and oral medications like beta blockers or carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, which help regulate IOP levels within the eye.
Laser surgery may also be used in cases where medications are not effective enough at managing IOP levels within the eye. Surgery can also be used in more advanced cases where drainage tubes are placed into the eyeball, which helps regulate fluid levels within the eye.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but certain risk factors increase your chances significantly, including increasing age (those over 60 are especially vulnerable), family history of glaucoma, having diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), ethnicity (African Americans and Latinos are more likely than Caucasians) being nearsighted or farsighted.
Taking certain medications that increase IOP levels such as corticosteroids or antidepressants), using tobacco products and alcohol regularly, having an injury or trauma to the eyes such as a blow to the head/eye area, etc., and using steroids for an extended period of time either orally or topically applied around/in/on/near your eyes.
The Bottom Line
Glaucoma is a serious condition that can lead to permanent damage if left untreated. It’s essential for everyone – especially those with risk factors such as increasing age – to get regular checkups with their optometrist or ophthalmologist so they can detect any changes in their vision early on before it becomes irreparable damage caused by glaucoma. Knowing what causes it, what symptoms to look out for, and different treatments available depending on the severity level of your particular case and risk factors associated with it will help you understand this better and hopefully prevent any future problems related to this condition!