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What is Glaucoma?


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Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Most patients will not experience any symptoms and because of this most of the blindness resulting from glaucoma is needless and can be prevented if detected and treated in time.

How Common is Glaucoma?

A full half of the population living with damage from glaucoma is completely unaware of it. This is because the disease progresses slowly and undetected with a gradual loss of side vision. By the time any loss in central vision is noticed the disease and the damage it can cause are far advanced. Until the latter stage there are no symptoms.

The critical importance of regular eye exams, early detection and treatment cannot be overly stressed to prevent vision loss that will be permanent and untreatable.

What Causes It?

Although no one has yet figured out why this occurs, glaucoma is a build up of fluid in the eye, which increases pressure on the optic nerve damaging its delicate fibers. The optic nerve, found at the back of the eye is the main ‘seeing’ nerve which sends signals to brain registering what the eye sees.

Intraocular pressure (IOC) is the normal level of pressure created by the constant renewal of fluids in the eye. For instance, IOC maintains the round shape of the eye. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause a specific pattern of eye damage resulting from increased intraocular pressure in one or both eyes.

Once again, there are no symptoms until irreparable damage has occurred and vision starts deteriorating. There will be no pain to get your attention as side or peripheral vision fades, nor as the disease progresses and your field of vision narrows. For this reason, regular optometrist checkups are critical to its early detection, particularly if you have a family history of the condition or other risk factors.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is very emotionally debilitating as it raises the very real fears of impending total blindness. It is not a cancer and is definitely not caused by overuse of the eyes. It is also not a result of poor nutrition, a lack of any kind of vitamin, anxiety or stress.

However certain risks factors have been identified in those likely to experience glaucoma. Women are twice as likely, and people of African descent three times as prone to developing glaucoma. A family history of glaucoma has proven to be the highest factor in determining occurrences of this disease, followed by age.

Glaucoma is primarily but not exclusively age related, found mostly in people over the age of 50. Other contributing factors include near or short sightedness, a history of serious eye injury or disease, steroid use, and any patients who have been diagnosed with IOC. Not everyone with elevated IOC is a candidate for glaucoma just as glaucoma can occur in patients without raised intraocular pressure.

Treatment for Glaucoma

Regardless of its form, no treatment is capable of completely eradicating this harmful build up of fluid because it is unknown what causes it in the first place. Available treatments are to slow down and ease the effects of the disease, but any damages are completely irreversible underlining the need for early-stage treatment. The earlier the diagnosis the more effective any treatment will be. Treatment includes:

  • Medications, available in pills and eye drops aid in reducing the pressure on the optic nerve by improving fluid drainage.
  • Laser surgery and general surgery are also options to reduce that inner pressure causing fluid build up.

Untreated glaucoma will lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.  That said, early diagnosis and treatment can make a substantial difference in slowing or even halting – temporarily or permanently – the damage the condition can cause due to the increased intraocular pressures. For millions of people, a diagnosis means blindness prevention.

Exercise and Glaucoma

Research shows that the only physical activity with any positive impact on glaucoma is aerobic exercise because it lowers blood pressure. Weightlifting on the other hand has proven to increase IOC. So does playing a wind instrument.

It is vital that you work with your doctor on any management plan for glaucoma and discuss all lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise if for no other reason than abrupt changes that can skew the results from some medical tests.

Diet and Glaucoma

After hundreds of random controlled tests, clinical trials and research into how diet may or may not affect glaucoma, the results all send the same message. There is no conclusive or convincing evidence that diet has any affect whatsoever in the development, prevention or treatment of glaucoma.

Some experts are optimistic that food substances high in anti-oxidants may one day prove to be beneficial. But then again there are many obvious advantages to having a healthy diet regardless of whether you suffer from glaucoma or not.