What is Glaucoma?
More than 80 million people in the world have glaucoma and the number is rising. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. There is no cure for the condition, but early diagnosis and treatment can almost always control it and prevent further vision loss.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a medical condition that causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the second cranial nerve and the nerve that is responsible for sending messages from the retina in the eye to the brain. When the nerve is damaged, it can lead to vision distortion, vision loss, and even blindness.
There are different types of glaucoma. The symptoms are essentially the same for all types. Glaucoma treatment depends on the type of glaucoma you have.
Unfortunately, in the early stages of glaucoma, there are no symptoms. When symptoms finally develop, the condition has already progressed. It cannot be reversed, so whatever damage has been done is permanent.
There are different types of glaucoma, but the most notable symptoms, no matter what the type, are:
- Seeing halos around lights. This is most apparent when you are driving at night. Halos appear around the taillights of the car you are following and around the headlights of oncoming cars.
- Eye pain.
- Vision loss.
- Noticeable loss in peripheral vision.
- Redness of the eye.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Tunnel vision.
The more severe the damage to the optic nerve, the more severe and noticeable the symptoms become.
Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve that occurs when there is increased pressure in the eye caused by a build-up of the fluid called the aqueous humor. This fluid naturally flows throughout the inside of the eye and drains out of the eye at the angle where the iris and the cornea of the eye meet.
When the drainage system does not work properly, the fluid cannot flow out at its normal rate. When this happens, the accumulating fluid puts pressure on the optic nerve and damages it. This damage causes vision problems and, if left untreated, may cause blindness.
Although glaucoma cannot be prevented, it can be detected and treated in its early stages, so the damage it causes may be prevented or at least lessened. Some prevention steps you can take include:
- Having regular eye exams. These exams must include having your eyes dilated so your eye doctor can look into the back of your eye and view your optic nerve. How often you should be examined depends on your age bracket and your family history.
- Learning about your family history. Glaucoma runs in families. Find out if any of your family members have had glaucoma. If so, you may need more frequent screening eye exams.
- Exercising. Some studies show that regular moderate exercise may help reduce eye pressure, which in turn may prevent glaucoma. There are some exercises you should avoid, like yoga positions that require you to bend over so your head is below your heart.
- Using eye drops exactly as prescribed by your eye doctor. If your eye care professional prescribes eye drops, follow the directions exactly and follow the schedule established for you. If not used appropriately, the drops will not be effective. Use them even if you have no symptoms and feel like your vision is fine.
- Wearing eye protection. Damage to your eyes, which in turn can damage the optic nerve, can lead to glaucoma. Always wear eye protection when using power tools. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you also wear eye protection when “playing high-speed racket sports in enclosed courts.”
There are different glaucoma treatment options. Your eye doctor will know which one is best for you. Sometimes, more than one treatment will be prescribed.
Treatment depends on the type of glaucoma you have. The main treatments are:
- Eye drops. These decrease the level of fluid in your eye.
- Oral medications.
- Laser surgery.