The official definition defines glaucoma as “a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve.” Conventionally, of course, most people think of glaucoma as a single-eye disease, severe cases of which can cause blindness. In fact, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60.
Needless to say, glaucoma is a fairly complex disease; it’s considered a “group” of eye conditions because there are a bunch of different types of glaucoma. All types of glaucoma are characterized by damage to the optic nerve caused by high pressure in the eye, or intraocular pressure, often caused by fluid build-up inside the eye. The optic nerve is essential for sight, thus severe damage to the optic nerve can cause blindness.
Of the various types of glaucoma, the most common is called primary open-angle glaucoma and is what most people are talking about when they talk about glaucoma. Other types include acute closed-angle glaucoma, and the much less common secondary glaucoma, normal-tension glaucoma, and pigmentary glaucoma.
Glaucoma, the build-up of pressure in the eye causing damage to the optic nerve, is generally thought to be caused by a blockage to the mesh-like channels through which the fluid in your eye called aqueous humor flows naturally. When those channels are blocked, the pressure in your eye builds up, and the optic nerve can be damaged.The real question is, what causes the blockage? Truth be told, experts are not entirely sure what causes it, but it is thought that a predisposition to the blockage can be genetic and passed down to children. Some less common glaucoma conditions can be caused by injury to the eye or severe eye infection.
It turns out, that many types of glaucoma while they eventually do have symptoms, can come on so gradually that a person may often not notice the change in their vision until the disease is at a relatively advanced stage. For primary open-angle glaucoma, people generally report patchy blind spots in their peripheral, and later their central vision, or tunnel vision later in the disease.
With acute closed-angle glaucoma, symptoms may include hazy or blurred vision, rainbow circles around bright lights, eye and headache pain, nausea and vomiting, and sudden vision loss. While damage can occur quickly with this type of glaucoma, the signs and symptoms are very noticeable and thus can be treated quickly by your eye doctor.
If untreated, the blindness caused by glaucoma can be permanent, but there are ways to both prevent and head off the disease, as well as treat it in the early stages.
Your number one prevention method is regular comprehensive eye exams. With regular screenings, your eye doctor can detect and treat glaucoma before any significant damage to your eyes or vision. While a comprehensive eye exam every few years might be fine in your 40s and 50s, people over 65 at higher risk should see their eye doctors at least every one to two years.
Glaucoma is generally treated with medicative eyedrops to lower the pressure in your eye preventing damage to the optic nerve. Beyond that, a doctor might suggest oral medication, laser treatment, or eye surgery to help drain the excess fluid in your eye. Treatment for glaucoma won’t reverse any damage already done to your eye, but treatment early on in the disease can slow the progression and protect your vision going forward.
While it continues to be thought that marijuana can help reduce pressure in your eyes, thus treating glaucoma, “reviews by the National Eye Institute and the Institute of Medicine show that there is no scientific evidence that marijuana is more effective than modern medications.”
Glaucoma often your eyes highly sensitive to light and glare. Some glaucoma medications can exacerbate that problem even further. Wearing sunglasses outdoors with UV protection can both make your eyes considerably more comfortable, but also slow the progression of glaucoma and macular degeneration.
Virtually unrecognizable to most people without his ever-changing array of fashionable sunglasses, it turns out U2 singer Bono has famously worn sunglasses both indoors and out for over 20 years to deal with glaucoma. Coming clean about his trademark shades, Bono said, “I’ve had glaucoma for the last 20 years. I have good treatments and I am going to be fine.”