Do you worry about your eyesight deteriorating as you age? You’re not alone; many people become concerned about medical conditions related to their vision, like glaucoma. While it’s often misunderstood and mistakenly thought of as a general term for diminished eyesight due to aging, glaucoma is actually an eye disorder that can cause irreversible damage if left untreated. If you want to learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments available for this condition and make sure you protect your sight, then don’t lose sight – read on!
What is Glaucoma?
When it comes to eye disorders, glaucoma is one of the most common and potentially dangerous conditions to consider. It occurs when the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain is damaged, resulting in vision loss and eventually blindness if left untreated. What is glaucoma, and how can it be detected and managed?
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders caused by the pressure buildup in the eye, which damages the optic nerve over time. There are two main categories of glaucoma: open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma, also known as primary glaucoma, is the most common type that involves a slow clogging of the drainage channels of the eye, leading to elevated pressure levels. On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma is less frequent and happens when the iris bulges forward, obstructing the drainage channels entirely.
Since these ocular diseases 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.
Medical eye drops and surgery can help drain fluid from the eyes, reducing pressure and preventing more damage to the optic nerve.
While there is no surefire way to prevent glaucoma, there are some measures you can take to lower your risk of developing the condition. Regular eye exams are crucial, especially if you are over 40 years old or have a family history of glaucoma. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing your blood pressure and diabetes, and avoiding smoking can also lower your risk of developing glaucoma.
Glaucoma Symptoms & Types
Since there are a number of different types of glaucoma, symptoms will vary depending on the kind you have.
Open-angle is the most common form of the disease. It occurs when the aqueous humor (the fluid that circulates in the eye) does not drain properly, causing pressure to build up and damage the optic nerve. It is often asymptomatic in the early stages, which is why it’s known as the “silent thief of sight”. As it progresses, you may experience tunnel vision or loss of peripheral vision. Factors that increase the risk of developing open-angle glaucoma include age, family history, and being of African-American descent.
Angle-closure is less common but more severe than open-angle glaucoma. It occurs when the iris (the colored part of the eye) bows forward and blocks the drainage angle, causing a sudden increase in eye pressure. This can lead to acute symptoms such as severe eye pain, headache, blurry vision, and nausea. Angle-closure is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Risk factors for angle-closure glaucoma include age, gender (females are more susceptible), and being of Asian descent.
Angle-closure is often easier to diagnose than open-angle, 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.
Normal-tension is a form of open-angle glaucoma where the optic nerve is damaged even though the intraocular pressure (IOP) is within the normal range. The exact cause of this type of glaucoma is unknown, but it is believed that other factors such as blood flow and genetics could play a role. Normal-tension can progress slowly and is often asymptomatic until it has reached an advanced stage.
It can be difficult to detect normal-tension, 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.
Congenital is a rare type of glaucoma that affects newborn babies. It is caused by an abnormality in the eye’s drainage system and is often diagnosed in the first few months of life. The symptoms of congenital include cloudy eyes, sensitivity to light, excessive tearing, and enlarged eyes. Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent permanent vision loss.
Secondary is a type of glaucoma that develops as a result of another eye condition or health problem. This could be due to an injury, inflammation, tumor, or medication use. Secondary glaucoma can be open-angle or angle-closure and its symptoms and treatment depend on the underlying cause.
What Causes 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.
Increased Intraocular Pressure
The most common cause of glaucoma is associated with an increase in intraocular pressure. This occurs when the fluid inside the eye (aqueous humor) does not flow properly, building up pressure and causing damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for transmitting images from the eye to the brain, making it a crucial part of the visual system. Increased intraocular pressure is the primary risk factor for the development of primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), the most common type of glaucoma worldwide.
As we age, our chances of developing glaucoma increases, and it commonly affects people above the age of 60. The reason for this is that our eyes’ ability to drain fluid begins to weaken as we age, which results in a build-up of fluid. The elderly are also at higher risk of other ocular diseases such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and refractive errors, which can complicate matters further.
Ethnicity can also influence the risk of developing glaucoma. African Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk of developing glaucoma than Caucasians, while Asians and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk of developing PACG. When it comes to glaucoma, race plays a significant role in both the development and the progression of the disease.
Eye trauma, such as a severe blow to the eye or a penetrating injury, can cause immediate or delayed damage to the optic nerve, leading to this eye disease. It’s essential to protect your eyes during sports or physical activities that carry a risk of eye injury.
A second leading cause of these series of eye diseases is having a family history. If you have a family member living with glaucoma, your risk of developing this condition increases significantly. If you have a parent or sibling who has or had glaucoma, you are four to nine times more likely to develop the condition.
Some medications can also increase a person’s risk of developing glaucoma. These include steroids, which are commonly used to treat inflammation. People who use these medications for a prolonged period of time should have regular eye exams to monitor their eye health.
Other Medical Conditions
Several other medical conditions can increase your risk of developing glaucoma. For example, people living with diabetes, hypertension, migraines, and myopia (nearsightedness) are at a higher risk of developing this ocular disease.
Are Glaucoma and Cataracts Related?
While there may be a link between the two conditions, it is important to note that they are distinct eye conditions with different causes and treatments. Glaucoma is treated with medications or surgeries that aim to lower the eye’s fluid pressure, while cataracts are treated with surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Many studies have shown that there might be a link between glaucoma and cataracts. Having cataracts can increase an individual’s risk of developing glaucoma, and vice versa. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Glaucoma found that individuals with cataracts were up to 2.5 times more likely to develop glaucoma than those without cataracts. Some of the reasons for this link could be due to the changes in the eye’s structure or the increased fluid pressure in the eye caused by cataracts.
Moreover, both glaucoma and cataracts can lead to vision loss, which can be even more pronounced when the two occur together. Cataracts can cause blurred vision and decrease contrast sensitivity, making it difficult to carry out daily activities such as reading and driving. Glaucoma, on the other hand, can affect the peripheral vision, which can lead to tunnel vision. The combination of the two conditions can worsen the vision loss and limit an individual’s independence.
The damage done by these ocular diseases cannot be reversed, although there are a number of ways to slow the progression of the condition.
Medicated Eye Drops
The most common treatment for glaucoma is eye drops. Eye drops can help lower the intraocular pressure (IOP), which is often the culprit behind this eye disease. There are different types of eye drops that work in different ways, such as prostaglandin analogs, beta-blockers, and antiglaucoma alpha agonists. It is crucial to use eye drops as prescribed by your doctor, and to follow the instructions on how to properly apply them. Be sure to keep your eye drops at room temperature, and to check the expiration date as expired drops may no longer be effective.
Here are a few main types of medicated eye drops:
These eye drops increase the flow of fluids from your eye, which reduces pressure buildup and prevents damage to the optic nerve.
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.
Antiglaucoma Alpha Agonists
Alpha agonists have become an essential component in the treatment of glaucoma over the last few decades. These drugs work by reducing the production of aqueous humor, the fluid that fills the front part of the eye and maintains pressure. Thus, alpha agonists lower intraocular pressure, which is the principal cause of optic nerve damage seen in glaucoma.
In some cases, oral medications prescriptions happen to lower IOP. These medications work by either reducing the amount of fluid your eye produces or increasing the amount of fluid that drains out of your eye. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors and osmotic diuretics are two types of oral medications that may be prescribed for this ocular disease. If your doctor prescribes oral medications, be sure to take them as directed and communicate any side effects to your doctor.
Laser surgery is another glaucoma treatment option. It is a non-invasive procedure that is to improve the drainage of fluid in the eye. There are different types of laser surgery available, and your doctor will recommend the one that is most suitable for you. Laser surgery is typically ongoing on an outpatient basis and is generally a safe procedure. Some common side effects of laser surgery include temporary blurred vision and mild discomfort.
There are two main types of laser treatment for glaucoma: trabeculoplasty and iridotomy. Trabeculoplasty is to treat open-angle and focuses on the drainage channel in the eye. Iridotomy is to treat closed-angle and involves creating a small hole in the iris to improve fluid drainage.
If eye drops, oral medications, or laser treatment are not effective for your glaucoma, surgery may be necessary. There are different types of surgery available for this eye disease, including trabeculectomy, tube shunt surgery, and minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS). Surgery is often for more advanced cases of glaucoma. It is important to discuss the risks and benefits of surgery with your doctor.
The recovery process varies from one individual to the other. Most people start noticing improvements within two to four weeks after surgery. Your surgeon may prescribe medication or eye drops to reduce the risk of infection, inflammation, or pain. You will need to avoid strenuous activities, lifting heavy objects, or bending over for the first few weeks after surgery. You may also need to attend regular check-ups to monitor your progress.
Are Glaucoma Eye Drops Expensive?
The cost of glaucoma eye drops can vary widely depending on the type of drop that is prescribed, the duration of treatment, and the location. On average, glaucoma eye drops cost ranges from $20 to $140 for a 30-day supply. Additionally, some drops are available in generic form, which might be a cost-effective option. Alternatively, they brand eye drops that are more expensive. They might be deemed effective for some patients who are allergic to generic eye drops.
Some eye drop manufacturers offer discounts or savings programs for patients who use their products. These programs can help reduce the financial burden on individuals with limited health care coverage and affordability. Patients can check the manufacturer’s website for information on the discounts available and how to apply.
Can Glaucoma be Fixed?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. Once the damage to the optic nerve has occurred, it cannot be reversed. However, there are several treatments that can help to slow or prevent further damage and preserve your remaining vision. These treatments include prescription eye drops, medication, laser therapy, and surgery.
Lifestyle and Natural Remedies
Follow A Healthy Diet
A nutrient-rich diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help to manage the symptoms of glaucoma. Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, carrots, and spinach, can help to protect the eyes from damage caused by free radicals. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, and seeds can help to reduce inflammation in the eyes.
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 it and can slow the progress of the condition if you already have it.
Foods that are rich in antioxidants include spinach, kale, pomegranate, green tea and cranberries.
There is also some evidence that certain nutritional deficiencies could increase the risk for glaucoma and may make conditions worse.
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. Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption can also help manage intraocular pressure.
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.
Regular exercise can lower intraocular pressure and improve blood flow to the eyes. Studies have found that aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling, can significantly reduce intraocular pressure in people with glaucoma. Additionally, strength training can also be beneficial in maintaining overall eye health.
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.
Bilberry is another herb that has been used for centuries to treat eye conditions. It contains anthocyanosides, which are compounds that help improve circulation in the eyes and reduce intraocular pressure. Bilberry also contains powerful antioxidants that can help protect the eyes from damage. You can take bilberry in supplement form or add it to your diet by eating fresh bilberries.
Ginkgo Biloba is an herbal supplement that has been studied extensively for its effects on the eyes. It’s famous for its ability to improve blood flow and circulation, which makes it helpful in treating glaucoma. Ginkgo Biloba also has powerful antioxidants that protect the eyes from damage and slow the progression of the condition. Studies have shown that taking Ginkgo Biloba can significantly reduce the symptoms of glaucoma.
Vitamin C is important for maintaining the vascular health of your eyes. The Vitamin C helps cells in the eye get enough blood flow, which can help keep your vision healthy as you age. Studies have shown that vitamin C can help reduce intraocular pressure in those with glaucoma. You can get vitamin C through supplements or by eating foods that are high in vitamin C. Oranges, strawberries, and broccoli are such fruits and vegetables.
In addition, magnesium may protect certain types of cells in the eye, which could lower the risk of permanent damage from glaucoma.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play a crucial role in maintaining eye health. They help reduce inflammation and protect the eyes from damage. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce intraocular pressure in those with glaucoma. You can get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, or by taking fish oil supplements.
Turmeric is a spice that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It’s well-known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties making it effective in treating a wide range of conditions, including glaucoma. Studies have shown that taking turmeric supplements can significantly reduce intraocular pressure, which is a major contributor to the progression of glaucoma.
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
The causes of glaucoma vary, and the condition can be caused by several factors. Whether it’s age, genetics, or medical conditions, early detection is essential in treating the condition. Many cases of glaucoma often go undiagnosed until the symptoms become severe, which ultimately leads to permanent blindness. Therefore, it’s imperative to get regular eye check-ups. This is especially true if you’re above 60, have a family history of glaucoma, or suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes. Remember, by taking early steps to prevent glaucoma, you could save your eyesight.
Glaucoma is a serious eye condition that can lead to permanent vision loss if not detected and treated promptly. It is essential to have regular eye exams to monitor for this condition and to seek immediate attention. This is true especially if you experience any symptoms such as eye pain or sudden vision loss. Knowing the different types of glaucoma and their causes can help you make informed decisions about your eye health and treatment options. Remember that early detection and treatment are the keys to preserving your vision.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease