glaucoma awareness, types of, what is glaucoma, am i at risk for glaucoma

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

glaucoma awareness, types of, what is glaucoma, am i at risk for glaucoma

glaucoma awareness, types of, what is glaucoma, am i at risk for glaucoma
Think about how grateful you are for your sight. Whether you wear thick-rimmed eye glasses, hard or soft contacts or are fortunate enough to have perfect vision, the gift of sight is not something we should ever take for granted.

As we age, we are at greater risk for losing our vision, especially due to glaucoma. The condition, which can affect any age group from newborns to young adults to the elderly, is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. The disease may initially present without any symptoms, so it is important to understand the risk factors, causes and symptoms of glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?
There are four different types of glaucoma: open-angle, angle-closure, congenital and secondary. Vision loss and blindness occur due to damage of the optic nerve. The nerve becomes damaged when pressure builds inside the eye, which can be traced to a variety of factors.

The cause of open-angle, or chronic, glaucoma is currently unknown. Although it is painless, glaucoma slowly damages your vision as pressure builds on the optic nerve. This is the most common form of glaucoma.  Angle-closure glaucoma, on the other hand, is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention.  Rather than a slow build-up of pressure, fluid in the eye is suddenly blocked, building pressure inside the eye quickly and causing severe pain. Congenital glaucoma presents in newborns, and secondary glaucoma is typically brought on by an outside factor such as a drug reaction, disease or trauma.

Symptoms of glaucoma
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the following are symptoms of open-angel, angle-closure and congenital glaucoma:

Open-angle glaucoma:

• Most people have no symptoms
• Once vision loss occurs, the damage is already severe
• There is a slow loss of side (peripheral) vision (also called tunnel vision)
• Advanced glaucoma can lead to blindness

Angle-closure glaucoma:

• Symptoms may come and go at first, or steadily become worse
• Sudden, severe pain in one eye
• Decreased or cloudy vision, often called “steamy” vision
• Nausea and vomiting
• Rainbow-like halos around lights
• Red eye
• Eye feels swollen

Congenital glaucoma:

• Symptoms are usually noticed when the child is a few months old
• Cloudiness of the front of the eye
• Enlargement of one eye or both eyes
• Red eye
• Sensitivity to light
• Tearing

Risk factors and treatment
Risk for developing or having a child with open-angle or congenital glaucoma increases if other family members have been previously diagnosed, as well as ethnicity. Specifically, African Americans are 15 times more likely to experience visual impairment from glaucoma compared to Caucasians. Angle-closure and secondary glaucoma are more likely to be the result of a drug interaction or, in the case of secondary glaucoma, the result of trauma or disease, such as advanced cases of cataracts or diabetes.

The best treatment for glaucoma is prevention. When symptoms begin to appear for glaucoma’s most common form, the condition has already progressed significantly. An estimated 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half have been diagnosed[1]. In order to protect your sight, you must have your vision tested on a regular basis. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to prevent further loss of vision if treatment begins immediately; these treatments include eye drops, laser therapy or eye surgery to reduce pressure in your eyes. Once diagnosed with glaucoma, regular check-ups are required to prevent blindness.


[1] http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/glaucoma-facts-and-stats.php

Photo credit: Flickr user Yeshe. Used with permission through Creative Commons. 

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