January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Let’s talk about this eye disease and how you can know if you are at risk.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which pressure builds up in the eye and can cause damage to the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss. It is a chronic disease that usually has no noticeable symptoms until damage to the optic nerve has already occurred. More than three million Americans suffer from glaucoma but only half of them know they have it. Because glaucoma rarely comes with symptoms, routine eye exams are essential for early detection and treatment to prevent vision loss from glaucoma.
Who is at risk?
Risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Age over 40
- African American or Hispanic/Latino descent
- A relative with glaucoma
- Higher than normal eye pressure
- History of eye trauma
- Thinner than normal corneas
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
Types of glaucoma
There are essentially two types of glaucoma: Open-angle glaucoma, and angle-closure glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of this disease. In this form of glaucoma, the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea is open and wide as it should be, but the drainage canals of the eye become clogged, causing a buildup of pressure and subsequent damage to the optic nerve. This type of glaucoma is also called primary or chronic glaucoma. Symptoms of open-angle are usually not noticeable until damage has been done and vision changes occur.
Angle-closure glaucoma: This form of glaucoma, also known as acute or narrow angle glaucoma, is much more rare. The fluid at the front of the eye cannot reach the angle (location of the drain) and leave the eye. The angle gets blocked by part of the iris. People with this type of glaucoma have a sudden increase in eye pressure. Symptoms include severe pain and nausea, as well as redness of the eye and blurred vision. If you have these symptoms, you need to seek treatment immediately. This is a medical emergency. If your doctor is unavailable, go to the nearest hospital or clinic. Without treatment to improve the flow of fluid, the eye can become blind in as few as one or two days. Usually, prompt laser surgery and medicines can clear the blockage and protect sight.
Treatment for Glaucoma
Although glaucoma cannot be cured, progression of the disease can be stopped if it is closely monitored. Early detection and treatment to lower eye pressure are the best defenses against vision loss. There are three ways to lower eye pressure: medication, laser, and surgery.
To learn more about the different types of glaucoma and treatment available, contact The Eye Center today.