Blindness from glaucoma can be prevented, but diagnosis and treatment must be done timely. Glaucoma Awareness Month is celebrated this month where education and awareness of glaucoma is heightened.
January is Glaucoma awareness month and a chance to remind people to have regular eye exams, and especially if they feel they have pressure on their eyes, are losing vision, or have a history of glaucoma in their family.
The only way to find out if you have glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. There is no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. The damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure in the eye and affects peripheral vision.
As the optic nerve is gradually damaged and deteriorates, blind spots develop in the peripheral field of vision.
The elevated eye pressure is caused by a buildup of aqueous humor, a fluid that flows throughout the inside of the eye. This internal eye fluid normally drains out through a tissue called the trabecular meshwork that is located at the angle where the iris meets the cornea.
When fluid backs up because the drainage system does not work properly, eye pressure increases and damages the optic nerve.
Three Common Forms of Glaucoma are:
This is the most common form of glaucoma. The angle for drainage is open, but the trabecular meshwork is partially blocked. Optic nerve damage happens slowing with this type of glaucoma and many people lose some vision before they are aware that they have glaucoma.
This form of glaucoma happens when the iris bulges forward and narrows or completely blocks the drainage angle. The aqueous humor can’t circulate through the eye and pressure increases. This type of glaucoma can occur suddenly and cause a severe headache, eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and halos around lights. It is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical intervention.
Some people develop glaucoma even when eye pressure is normal. The exact reason for this type of glaucoma is unknown.
- Risk factors for developing glaucoma
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over age 60
- Being black, Asian or Hispanic
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia
- Having corneas that are thin in the center
- Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time
Prevent Blindness from Glaucoma
Detecting glaucoma in its early stages can prevent blindness from glaucoma and slow the progression of the disease. Getting regular dilated eye examinations is the only way to detect most forms of glaucoma in the early stages.
As a general rule, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every five to 10 years if you’re under 40 years old; every two to four years if you’re 40 to 54 years old; every one to three years if you’re 55 to 64 years old; and every one to two years if you’re older than 65. If you’re at risk of glaucoma, you’ll need more frequent screening. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.