Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve leaving an individual completely blind. It occurs due to excessively high intraocular pressure (IOP). If this increased pressure is left untreated, it can lead to severe optic nerve damage resulting in progressive or permanent blindness. It is one of the leading causes of legal blindness in the US but is also deemed as the preventable cause of vision loss. It tends to run in families and occurs in people over the age of 60. As baby boomers age, we can anticipate more and more cases of glaucoma in seniors. However, if seniors follow treatment early enough, they can often protect their eyes against serious vision loss.
Risk Factors of glaucoma - Some of the common risk factors for glaucoma are age, family history, African or Hispanic descent, elevated eye pressure, past eye injury, and low blood pressure.
Types of Glaucoma
Open-Angle Glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma and accounts for 90% of all cases. It affects nearly 2 million Americans. Some of the facts about open angle glaucoma are:
(a) It happens when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time. This increases eye pressure. As a result, the correct amount of fluid cannot drain out of the eye.
(b) There is a wide angle between the iris and the cornea
(c) It develops slowly
(d) It is a lifelong condition
Often people do not encounter any symptoms or early warning signs. However, if it is not diagnosed and treated, it can cause a gradual loss of vision. This type of glaucoma develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. It usually responds well to medication, especially if caught early and treated.
Low-Tension or Normal-Tension Glaucoma – Optic nerve damage and narrowed-side vision are the two conditions that occur in people with normal eye pressure. If they lower their eye pressure at least 30 percent through medicines, it can slow the disease in some people. However, glaucoma may worsen in others despite low pressures. A comprehensive medical history is very crucial to identify potential risk factors, such as low blood pressure, that contribute to low-tension glaucoma.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma -The fluid in the front of the eye is not able to reach the angle and leave the eye. As a result, the angle gets blocked by part of the iris. People with this type of glaucoma have a sudden increase in eye pressure. The common symptoms are severe pain and nausea, redness of the eye, and blurred vision. If someone has these symptoms, he/she should immediately seek treatment and treat it as a medical emergency. Without treatment to improve the flow of fluid, the eye can become blind in as few as one or two days. There is a tendency for this disease to be inherited. Usually, prompt laser surgery and medicines can clear the blockage and protect sight.
Acute Glaucoma – Unlike in open angle glaucoma, the intraocular pressure suddenly increases in people with acute glaucoma. This sudden rise in pressure can occur within an hour, causes intense pain in the eyes, and can lead to nausea and vomiting. The eyes become red, the cornea swells, and the patient may experience blurred vision. An acute attack is an emergency condition. If treatment is delayed, eyesight can be permanently destroyed.
Secondary Glaucoma – generally is the complications of other medical conditions. It is sometimes associated with eye surgery or eye injuries, certain eye tumors, or uveitis (eye inflammation).
Pigmentary Glaucoma - occurs when pigment from the iris flakes off and blocks the meshwork, slowing fluid drainage.
Neovascular glaucoma – is linked to diabetes or high blood sugar. Corticosteroid drugs used to treat eye inflammation and other diseases can trigger glaucoma in some people. Treatment includes medication, laser surgery, or conventional surgery.
Recent statistics reveal that there are around 2 to 3 million people in the US who have glaucoma and about 120,000 of these people are legally blind. Although the risk of glaucoma increases with age, it can strike any age group, even as young as newborn infants and fetuses. Sometimes there are no initial symptoms, so as many as 1 million people may have glaucoma but do not know they have it. The best form of prevention is to have regular eye exams.