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Glaucoma 101

January 15 2024

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is definitely something to take seriously. It’s the leading cause of blindness, and affects about 3 million Americans, or nearly 2 percent of the population. It can affect one or both eyes. As many as one fifth of those with glaucoma will eventually go blind in at least one of their eyes. A local Marysville, WA optometrist offers some insight on glaucoma in this article.

What Are The Symptoms Of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is often asymptomatic in its early stages, which is one reason it’s so important to have your eyes screened regularly. As the condition progresses, you may notice changes in your vision. Common warning signs at this point include blind spots, loss of peripheral vision, eye pain, headaches, halos or ‘rainbow circles’ around lights, low vision, blurred vision, and red eyes. It can also cause nausea and vomiting. Many of the symptoms progress slowly, so you may not notice anything wrong at first. Contact your Marysville, WA eye doctor right away if you experience any of these. 

Who Is At Risk Of Glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma. However, there are factors that increase the risk. Age is the biggest one. The vast majority of those with glaucoma are over the age of 60. Genetics also play a role, as the condition also runs in families. You may be at elevated risk if you are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent.

It’s worth noting that glaucoma can also be triggered by other factors, such as eye injuries or infections, inflammation, or blood vessel blockages. Certain drugs, such as steroids, OTC cold remedies, and drugs for bladder control or seizures, can also elevate the risk. While this is rare, it can also occasionally be triggered by eye surgery for a different condition.

Here are some of the other risk factors:   

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle Cell AnemiaFarsightedness
  • Nearsightedness
  • Poor Vision
  • Thin Corneas

If any of these apply to you, reach out to your optometrist.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an umbrella term that encompasses several conditions, all of which are related to damage or dysfunction in the optic nerve. There are several kinds of glaucoma. Left untreated, any and all of them can cause vision damage or loss, up to and including blindness.

What Causes Glaucoma?

No single root cause of glaucoma has been identified. However, elevated eye pressure seems to be the common thread. However, that isn’t a universal connection. Glaucoma can also affect people with normal eye pressure. In fact, one kind of glaucoma — normal-tension glaucoma — affects those with normal eye pressure. It’s also important to note that eye pressure varies naturally from person to person.

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Glaucoma, unfortunately, cannot be cured. Treatments are meant to slow or stabilize the condition. They cannot restore vision loss, unfortunately.

That said, there are treatments available. These include:

Eye Drops: Prescription eye drops are the most common form of treatment for glaucoma. These lower the pressure in the eye, which can in turn protect the optic nerve from damage. 

There are a few caveats here, though. For one thing, it may take a bit of trial and error to find the prescription that works for you. Some patients need more than one kind. You’ll also need to be diligent about staying on top of these. Some people may only need to use the drops once a day: others may need to put them in four times a day. Varying from or stopping treatment can cause further damage, so this is definitely something to take seriously. There’s also the possibility of unpleasant side effects, such as eye irritation.

Laser Treatment/Surgery: Laser treatments have been a game changer in the optometry and ophthalmology fields over the past few decades. These can be a great option for some patients. Your doctor will use a laser to reduce the amount of fluid in the eye, therefore bringing that pressure down. 

There are a few different types of laser treatment. First, there’s laser trabeculoplasty, in which the laser is used to improve the eye’s natural drainage tube. This is actually the most common type of surgery for glaucoma. With cyclodiode laser treatment, the laser will actually destroy the eye tissue that is producing liquid. Laser iridotomy uses a laser to create tiny holes in the eye, so fluid can drain. There are also a few other procedures. 

As with laser treatments to correct vision, such as LASIK, these procedures are sometimes performed while the patient is awake. Numbing drops will be used, instead of full anesthesia. In other cases, the patient may be sleeping under general anesthesia.

Your Marysville, WA eye doctor will determine what the best course of action is after fully evaluating you.

Can Glaucoma Be Cured?

Glaucoma, unfortunately, is incurable. As mentioned above, once vision loss has occurred, that damage is permanent. There is some good news here, though. Early detection and treatment can make a huge difference, and can help prevent, reduce, or delay vision loss. That’s why it’s so important to keep up with regular exams at your Marysville, WA eye care clinic! 

How Long Does It Take For Glaucoma To Cause Blindness? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this one: every patient is a bit different. That said, the average time between onset to blindness is about ten to 15 years. Many variables come into play here, but the key one seems to be intraocular eye pressure, or IOP. For instance, a patient with an IOP level above 30 mmHg may lose their vision in only three years, while one whose IOP is 21-25 mmHg may not go blind for as many as 15 years.

How Many Kinds Of Glaucoma Are There?

There are four major types of glaucoma, as well as several less common ones. The big ones are as follows:

Open-Angle Glaucoma: Here in the U.S., open-angle glaucoma is the most common. There is no specific known cause: this type of glaucoma is typically asymptomatic at first, and usually progresses slowly. Open-angle glaucoma often runs in families. Those of African descent face elevated risks. The most common symptoms are a slow loss of side vision and/or tunnel vision.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma: Sometimes called closed-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma can develop very quickly, due to a sudden buildup of fluid in the eye. It can be triggered by certain things, such as medicines or even dilation eye drops. It can cause a sudden onset of symptoms, such as nausea, red eyes, blurry vision, and eye pain. This is known as a glaucoma attack. It can happen in either eye, but those who experience it in one eye are at elevated risk of getting it in the other. If you experience any of these symptoms, go to your doctor or the ER right away.

Secondary Glaucoma: Secondary glaucoma happens as a side effect or complication of a different issue. Some of the possible causes include taking certain types of medicine; certain eye diseases; eye injuries; and specific health conditions, such as diabetes. Symptoms can vary according to the cause.

Congenital Glaucoma: As the name suggests, congenital glaucoma is something babies are born with. It tends to run in families, and is caused by issues with the eye’s development. Parents usually notice symptoms when the infant is a few months old. These include cloudiness of the eye, red eyes, excessive tearing, and light sensitivity. One or both eyes may also be enlarged.

In conclusion: Glaucoma is a very serious eye condition, and is the leading cause of blindness in the world. It cannot be cured, but it can be managed if diagnosed and treated early.

Our Advice on Glaucoma in 2024

What are the specific genetic factors or genes associated with an increased risk of developing glaucoma?

Genetic factors play a significant role in the development of glaucoma, particularly in families where the condition is prevalent. Certain populations, including individuals of African, Irish, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, and Scandinavian descent, exhibit a higher predisposition to glaucoma. This increased risk is often linked to specific genetic variations that affect eye pressure and optic nerve health. Additionally, familial patterns suggest that multiple genes may influence susceptibility to different types of glaucoma, such as open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma, underscoring the importance of genetic research in understanding and managing this eye disease.

How often should individuals at different risk levels (low, medium, high) get their eyes screened for glaucoma?

For glaucoma screening, the frequency depends on individual risk levels. Low-risk individuals, those without a family history or other risk factors, should start biennial screenings at age 40. Medium-risk individuals, including those over 60 or of specific descent (African, Hispanic, etc.), should consider annual screenings starting at age 40. High-risk individuals, especially those with a family history of glaucoma, previous eye injuries, or conditions like diabetes, should undergo screenings annually or more frequently, as advised by an optometrist, starting potentially earlier than 40. Early detection is crucial for effective management.

What are the most common side effects of the various eye drops used to treat glaucoma?

The most common side effects of glaucoma eye drops include eye redness, irritation, and changes in eye color, typically darkening. Some patients experience blurred vision or a stinging sensation immediately after application. Systemic side effects can occur, though they are less common, including changes in heart rate or respiratory issues, particularly with beta-blocker type drops. Eyelash growth and changes in the skin around the eyes can also occur. It’s essential for patients to discuss these potential side effects with their eye care provider to tailor treatment effectively.

Are there any lifestyle changes or dietary modifications that can help slow the progression of glaucoma?

Lifestyle changes and dietary modifications can contribute to managing glaucoma by maintaining overall eye health and stabilizing intraocular pressure. Regular physical exercise, such as walking or jogging, can help reduce eye pressure. A balanced diet rich in leafy greens, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants may also support optic nerve health. Avoiding excessive caffeine and staying hydrated are advisable to manage fluid pressure in the eyes. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking can reduce the risk of further eye damage. Regular consultations with an eye care professional are essential for monitoring and guidance.

How does glaucoma specifically damage the optic nerve, and what are the mechanisms behind the increased eye pressure?

Glaucoma primarily damages the optic nerve through elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), which compresses and damages the nerve fibers, leading to vision loss. The increased pressure is typically due to an imbalance in the production and drainage of aqueous humor, the fluid in the eye. In open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, causing fluid buildup. In angle-closure glaucoma, the iris bulges forward to narrow or block the drainage angle, abruptly increasing pressure. Both scenarios stress the optic nerve and can lead to irreversible damage.

Do you have questions about glaucoma? Do you need to schedule an exam? Contact us, your Marysville, WA optometry clinic, today!

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