Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness — and once its symptoms surface, the damage is already done. That’s what makes it such an insidious disease. Today, more than 3 million Americans are afflicted with glaucoma, and as our population ages, that number is likely to grow to 4.2 million in just a decade.
That’s why it’s so important to learn all you can about this “sneak thief of sight” during National Glaucoma Awareness Month.
There are several types of glaucoma, nearly all of which are caused by high pressure inside the eye that damages the optic nerve and causes gradual loss of sight. The most common form is Open Angle Glaucoma, which accounts for at least 90% of cases and has symptoms that are rarely noticed until the onset of patchy blind spots and tunnel vision. However the next most common form, Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma, develops very suddenly and can cause severe headaches and eye pain, blurred vision, and nausea.
Because glaucoma often does its damage before any symptoms appear, it’s important to know the most common risk factors:
• African, Asian or Hispanic descent (glaucoma is 6-8 times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians)
• High internal eye pressure
• Being age 60+
• A family history of glaucoma
• Having certain medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia
• Corneas that are thin in the center
• Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
• A previous eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
• Long-term use of corticosteroids, especially eyedrops
The key to keeping glaucoma from doing irreversible damage is to catch it early:
• Get regular, comprehensive eye exams. Every 5-10 years if you’re under 40, 2-4 years from 40-54, 1-3 years from 55-64, and every 1-2 years thereafter.
• Know your family history. Glaucoma often runs in families, so if yours has a history of glaucoma, you may need more frequent screening.
• Exercise safely. Moderate exercise, on a regular basis, can reduce eye pressure and lower your risk for glaucoma.
• Always use your eyedrops. If your exam reveals high internal eye pressure, you’ll likely be prescribed drops to reduce that pressure that you’ll need to use as directed, ALWAYS.
• Protect your eyes. A severe eye injury can lead to glaucoma, so whether it’s working with tools or playing any sport with a high-speed ball or puck, wear your eye protection.
• Eat healthy. Many vitamins and nutrients support eye health, including vitamins A, C and E, zinc, copper and selenium.
• Limit the caffeine. It’s a good pick-me-up, but it can also elevate eye pressure.
• Drink fluids in moderate amounts. A quart or more in a short time can increase eye pressure temporarily.
• Keep your head up in bed. You can lower your inner-eye pressure while sleeping by keeping your head raised approximately 20 degrees.
Several procedures can improve the drainage of fluid within the eye to reduce pressure:
• Laser therapy. This non-invasive procedure uses a series of a small laser treatments to open clogged channels inside the eye.
• Filtering surgery. Creates an opening in the white of the eye to remove part of the trabecular meshwork (an area of tissue around the base of the cornea, that’s responsible for drainage).
• Drainage shunts. A small tube is inserted in the eye to drain away excess fluid.
• Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS). Often combined with cataract surgery, this variety of techniques can reduce pressure with less risk and less immediate postoperative care.
Your vision is far too precious to ever be taken for granted. That’s why St. Clair Hospital is committed to providing our region with the very best in care for your eyes. Our network of 16 ophthalmology specialists provides the most modern skills, tools and technologies to treat the full spectrum of eye conditions — from glaucoma to injuries to cataract procedures that include alternatives to LASIK. And through our partnership with the Mayo Clinic, you have access to free consultations with world-renowned eye care experts without ever leaving home.
Click here to learn more about our ophthalmologists and services: stclair.org/physicians/directory/search?firstname=&lastname=&type=Ophthalmology