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Glaucoma: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a term used for a variety of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. In most cases, it leads to increased fluid buildup behind the eyes, which puts pressure on the optic nerve (x).

Since glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, vision loss from the condition is permanent. However, there are a number of ways to treat glaucoma and prevent further damage to the eyes (x).

Medical eye drops and surgery can help drain fluid from the eyes, reducing pressure and preventing more damage to the optic nerve.

Lifestyle interventions, such as a diet rich in leafy greens and plenty of exercise, may also reduce the severity of glaucoma symptoms.

Symptoms of Glaucoma

Since there are a number of different types of glaucoma, symptoms will vary depending on the kind you have.

Open-Angle Glaucoma

The most common form, open-angle glaucoma is often hard to detect during early stages. It usually builds up slowly, so you may not notice any obvious physical symptoms until your vision begins to be affected (x).

In addition to vision loss, many people with open-angle glaucoma experience blind spots in their peripheral vision due to damage to the optic nerve.

Close-Angle Glaucoma

Close-angle glaucoma is often easier to diagnose than open-angle glaucoma, with more noticeable side effects during the early stages of the condition. It is often associated with headaches and eye pain, as pressure begins to build up as fluids accumulate in the eye (x).

In some cases, close-angle glaucoma comes on suddenly, leading to rapid vision loss and nausea. If you notice any of the symptoms of acute close-angle glaucoma, you should seek medical attention right away (x).

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

It can be difficult to detect normal-tension glaucoma, as it often presents with fewer symptoms. Some people may start to get migraines. Peripheral vision loss is often seen in severe cases. In some serious cases, people may experience optic nerve hemorrhages (x).

Congenital Glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma usually causes many notable side effects, which is why the condition is often diagnosed soon after birth. Symptoms include unusually large eyes, excessive tearing, cloudy eyes and light sensitivity (x).

Causes of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a broad class of eye conditions, with a number of different causes. In all of the different kinds, the optic nerve is damaged, which can lead to vision problems and blindness.

Nerve Damage Caused by Oxidative Stress

Although glaucoma can be caused by a wide range of factors, one of the most common causes is oxidative stress.

Studies have shown that oxidative stress in the eyes of people with glaucoma is much higher than in healthy people. Long term oxidative stress damages the cells in the optic nerve, causing vision loss (x).

Open-Angle Glaucoma

In the case of open-angle glaucoma, you have a healthy iris and cornea. However, the drainage canals in your eyes have become blocked, preventing fluids from circulating. This can cause pressure to build up in the eyes, leading to damage to the optic nerve (x).

Open-angle glaucoma is by far the most common type of glaucoma. It’s the leading cause of irreversible vision problems and blindness. Because it’s so common, many people may not realize they have the condition until it is serious.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

In angle-closure glaucoma, the drainage tubes in the eye are blocked by the iris. Since the tubes are blocked, fluids cannot circulate around the eyes, leading to fluid and pressure buildup.

There are some people who have narrow drainage angles, which puts them at an increased risk for this type of glaucoma (x).

There are two main types of angle-closure glaucoma — acute and gradual onset. With acute onset angle-closure glaucoma, you can suddenly lose vision due to rapid pressure buildup in the eyes.

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

In normal-tension glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged without increased eye pressure. The cause of the condition is still not well understood.

It appears that people with this type of glaucoma have optic nerves that are more sensitive to damage. Even normal to low eye pressure can put them at risk for nerve damage.

Normal-tension glaucoma is a bit harder to diagnose than other types of the condition. Usually, doctors will diagnose the condition by directly observing the optic nerve. If the optic nerve has an odd shape or color, then the doctor may conduct further testing to see if you have glaucoma (x).

Congenital Glaucoma

This is the rarest form of glaucoma. It’s an inherited condition that is almost always diagnosed early in life. It is caused by the incomplete formation of drainage tubes in the eyes. This leads to increased fluid buildup, which can cause pressure to rise to dangerous levels (x).

Symptoms of congenital glaucoma are similar to other forms of the condition, including swollen eyes, clouded corneas and sensitivity to light.

Causes of Glaucoma

Treatment for Glaucoma

The damage done by glaucoma cannot be reversed, although there are a number of ways to slow the progression of the condition.

Medicated Eye Drops

Eye drops are usually the first line treatment used for glaucoma. These help reduce eye pressure by draining more fluids, as well as by preventing fluid buildup in the first place.

There are a number of different types of medicated eye drops used to treat glaucoma, and you may have to use a combination to lower pressure in the eyes.

Here are a few main types of medicated eye drops:

Prostaglandins

These eye drops increase the flow of fluids from your eye, which reduces pressure buildup and prevents damage to the optic nerve (x).

Beta Blockers

Like prostaglandins, beta blockers work to lower pressure in your eyes. They reduce the amount of fluids produced in the eyes, which can help prevent glaucoma from causing serious nerve damage (x).

Surgery

In the event that eye drops don’t do enough to lower eye pressure, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are multiple different types of surgery that are used to treat glaucoma, including laser therapy.

Here are some of the common procedures:

Laser Surgery

Laser surgery is one of the safest procedures used to treat glaucoma. Your doctor uses a laser to open up channels that are blocked in your eye, which helps drain fluids and prevent pressure from building up.

Although safe and effective, laser therapy can only be used with certain types of glaucoma. It’s most commonly used for open angle glaucoma (x).

Draining Fluids

In some severe cases, your doctor may directly drain your eye to keep pressure from building up. This procedure is often necessary if eye drops are ineffective and your doctor is concerned that fluid buildup could damage your eyes (x).

To drain fluids, your doctor will insert a small shunt that removes excess fluids from your eye.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Minimally invasive surgery is a good option for people who want fewer side effects and a shorter recovery time than would be required with a drainage tube.

Lifestyle and Natural Remedies

Diet

Diet will not completely treat glaucoma. However, there are studies that have shown that a healthy diet can lower the risk for glaucoma, and possibly prevent the condition from getting worse.

A diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables can give you the mix of vitamins needed to protect your eye health. Produce that has vitamins A and C are some of the most effective for preventing glaucoma (x).

Recommended vegetables include spinach, collard greens, kale, carrots, celery and beets.

Antioxidants

Studies have shown that oxidative stress may be one of the main causes of optic nerve damage in people who have glaucoma. Foods and supplements that are rich in antioxidants may lower the risk of developing glaucoma and can slow the progress of the condition if you already have it (x).

Foods that are rich in antioxidants include spinach, kale, pomegranate, green tea and cranberries.

Nutritional Deficiencies

There is also some evidence that certain nutritional deficiencies could increase the risk for glaucoma and may make conditions worse (x).

You can get many of the vitamins you need from your diet, although taking supplements is a good way to increase the dose if you are severely deficient.

If you are worried that you may be deficient in certain vitamins, have a blood test done. This will make it easier to take the supplements that you need.

Exercise

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and it may potentially lower the risk of developing glaucoma, as well as slowing the progression of the condition.

More exercise may potentially reduce oxidative stress, which lowers the risk of damage to the optic nerves.

Supplements for Eye Health

Although supplements will not directly cure any case of glaucoma, they can protect your overall eye health. They may also reduce the symptoms of the condition, helping prevent damage to your eyes.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for protecting vision, as it helps prevent damage to the cornea, the outer layer of the eye. Low levels may increase the risk of blurred vision.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has been shown to protect the eyes from free radicals (x). Although more vitamin E won’t treat glaucoma, it may be able to reduce the amount of damage to the optic nerve.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is important for maintaining the vascular health of your eyes. It helps cells in the eye get enough blood flow, which can help keep your vision healthy as you age.

Magnesium

Research has shown that magnesium may play a role in the treatment of glaucoma. Increased levels of magnesium can increase blood flow to parts of the eye, reducing damage from the condition (x).

In addition, magnesium may protect certain types of cells in the eye, which could lower the risk of permanent damage from glaucoma.

Zinc

Zinc is crucial for bringing vitamin A to the eyes, which helps prevent vision loss. Some studies have shown that low levels of zinc are associated with vision loss, although the link to glaucoma is still not clear.

The Bottom Line

Glaucoma is a medical term used to describe a variety of conditions where the optic nerve is damaged. It is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss around the world.

The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma. It’s often hard to detect in early stages, and you may not know you have the condition until you develop vision loss.

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which means that any vision loss that comes from the condition is irreversible. However, there are treatments and lifestyle interventions that can slow the progression of the condition, as well as lower the risk of developing it in the first place.

Certain vitamin supplements, such as vitamins A, C and E may also lower the risk of developing glaucoma.

By: Justin Stewart

About the author

Ryan Quigley

Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.


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