January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. As an ophthalmologist by training, I thought it would be important to publish some general information about this disease which can silently steal sight.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that develops when the optic nerve becomes damaged. It damages vision and can lead to full blindness over time if left untreated. It is very often symptomless in the early stages which means many people don’t even realize they have it. In this post, I’ll be providing you with the latest glaucoma statistics, discussing the main forms of this eye disease, and listing ways to lower your risk.
- Currently, more than 3 million Americans and over 60 million people worldwide have glaucoma.
- Approximately 50% of these Americans do not know they have this disease.
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide behind cataracts.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of this eye disease and is responsible for over 90% of reported cases. It gets its name because the angle between the cornea and the iris remains naturally open and wide in sufferers. Open-angle glaucoma develops when the drainage canals in the eyes gradually get blocked. This causes fluid pressure to build up in the eyes and ultimately damages the optic nerve. However, since this build-up is gradual, the damage often goes unnoticed until the disease becomes more advanced.
Other Types Of Glaucoma
As mentioned above, open-angle glaucoma accounts for more than 90% of reported cases worldwide. The remaining 10% is made up of the following types:
Angle Closure Glaucoma: Angle-closure glaucoma gets its name because the angle between the cornea and the iris becomes unnaturally closed and narrow in sufferers. It develops when the draining canals become blocked very suddenly. This leads to a rapid build-up of fluid pressure in the eyes which then damages the optic nerve. Since the pressure builds up rapidly, the damage caused by angle-closure glaucoma is often noticeable in the very early stages.
Congenital Glaucoma: Congenital glaucoma (also referred to as childhood, infantile or pediatric glaucoma) gets its name because it occurs in babies and children within their first five years of life. It develops when the child’s eyes drainage system does not function properly as a result of a birth defect or genetic inheritance. This leads to fluid pressure building up in the eye and ultimately damaging the optic nerve.
Normal-Tension Glaucoma:- Normal-tension glaucoma (also known as NTG and normal pressure glaucoma) gets its name because the fluid pressure in the eye remains normal in sufferers. It is not known why this develops in certain people with normal eye fluid pressure and not others.
Eye Care Tips To Protect Your Eyes
Although, nobody knows exactly what causes glaucoma, taking proper care of your eyes and doing everything in your power to protect them from damage is a must. Here I will be discussing three eye care tips that can help protect your vision.
Have Regular Eye Exams
If you want to prevent glaucoma and minimize the impact, it has on your life then this is the number one thing you need to be doing. Over 90% of glaucoma cases exhibit little to no symptoms until they become advanced. By this point, the damage has often been done and the impact on sight can be severe.
However, if you have regular eye exams, your eye specialist will be able to perform tests and pick up little signs and symptoms that you may not naturally notice yourself. For example, your eye specialist will be able to test for changes in your peripheral vision – something that you wouldn’t even notice on a day to day basis.
The frequency with which you should go for eye exams depends on your age. The list below offers some suggestions:
- Less than 40 years old = At least every four years.
- Between 40 and 54 years old = At least every three years.
- Between 55 and 64 years old = At least every two years.
- Over 64 years old = At least every year.
Also, certain populations may have a higher risk of developing glaucoma. This disease is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. The risk is also higher in Latino populations.
Other populations at higher risk: People over 60, family members of people with glaucoma, people with diabetes, people with a history of trauma, people with high blood pressure, and highly nearsighted people.
Protect Your Eyes During Sports
If you are playing a sport that puts you at risk of heavy impacts to the eye then you should make sure they are protected. For example, if you are playing squash make sure you get yourself some squash goggles. Sports injuries that make the eye compress suddenly (such as a squash ball hitting you in the eye) can damage the optic nerve and cause glaucoma. You might not like the look of protective gear but sacrificing your image to protect your eyes is definitely worthwhile.
As we know, an exercise regimen is beneficial to overall health. Studies have suggested that regular exercise can lower the pressure in the eye as well. These lowering benefits only occur during the actual exercise so the benefits are limited.
It is best to speak with your health care provider to discuss the best exercise regimen for you.
As I said at the beginning of this article, no one knows what causes glaucoma. However, since it is an eye disease, protecting your eyes is a very smart move. To catch this eye disease as early as possible, you need to get regular eye tests. Additionally, make sure you are leading a healthy, active lifestyle. Following these tips will give you the best shot at keeping your eyes healthy.
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This article provides general information and discussion about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult your own physician for any medical issues that you may be having.