According to statistics provided by the Glaucoma Research Society of Canada, glaucoma affects more than 400,000 Canadians and 67 million people worldwide.
What Is Glaucoma? Before you panic, you should recognize that glaucoma is a group of diseases relating to the eye's optic nerve. The likelihood of developing glaucoma increases as you get older, but if you detect and treat glaucoma early, you can protect your eyes against vision loss. There are several types of glaucoma, though the two main types are the following:
Open-Angle: The most common glaucoma type, this form results when drainage canals clog and create pressure on the eye. It has a wide, open angle between the cornea and the iris, and it develops slowly over time. Most symptoms go unobserved.
Angle-Closure: Like open-angle glaucoma, this form results when drainage canals create pressure on the eye. However, the clogging is sudden and develops quickly. It has a closed angle between the cornea and the iris, and triggers noticeable symptoms and damage.
Unless you experience angle-closure glaucoma, you likely won't notice any of its symptoms. Some people tolerate the increased eye pressure better than others, so they don't notice the change until late in the disease. However, if you notice these symptoms, seek medical attention:
Change in iris color
Difficulty focusing on near or far objects
Nausea or vomiting
Red-rimmed or swollen lids
Seeing spots, ghost-like images, or halos around lights
Squinting or blinking due to light sensitivity
Trouble adjusting to dark rooms
These symptoms occur when eye pressure rises to severe levels. With immediate help, you can keep damage to a minimum. Are You At Risk? While glaucoma statistics are intimidating, not everyone is at risk for developing the disease. Your eye doctors will determine your risk for developing the disease based the following factors:
Age (older than 40)
Ancestry (Those of African and Latino descent are at greater risk than Caucasians)
Corneal thickness (thinner corneas have an increased risk)
Diabetes and hypertension (these conditions negatively affect blood vessels in the retina)
Family history (genetic defects may cause you to be more susceptible)
Depending on your risk, your eye doctor may decide if you need to be monitored regularly for the disease or if you need treatment.
Catching Glaucoma Early Because most glaucoma symptoms go unobserved, the best way to determine if you have the condition is to get an eye exam. In general, it's best to check for glaucoma on a regular basis:
Before 40 – check every 2 to 4 years
Age 40 to 54 – every 1 to 3 years
Age 55 to 64 – every 1 to 2 years
Age 65 – every 6 to 12 months
If you have a higher risk of developing glaucoma, get a test every year or two after age 35. By catching glaucoma early, you can take medication that will slow its progression. Treating Glaucoma Symptoms Currently we have no clear-cut cure for glaucoma. However, you can treat its symptoms with medication or surgery. These treatments keep glaucoma under control by reducing intraocular pressure.
Medication: If you catch glaucoma early, your eye doctor may recommend eye drops or pills to reduce eye pressure and help fluid drain from the eye. You should take your glaucoma medicine as recommended by your eye care professional. Consistency is key – many glaucoma patients forget to take their medicine because they don't experience any noticeable symptoms.
Surgery: When medication is not sufficient, surgery may help. Surgery may stimulate the trabecular meshwork to drain fluid. If necessary, surgeons may insert a drainage valve implant to help the eye drain more effectively.
While these treatments can help glaucoma patients, they do not reverse vision loss. Patients will need to continue their treatment for the rest of their lives to keep glaucoma under control. What You Can Do to Prevent Glaucoma While science has yet to find a way to prevent glaucoma, you can take certain steps to ensure your eyes stay as healthy as possible. First, establish a healthy exercise routine. According to studies, regular exercise reduces intraocular pressure in patients at risk of having glaucoma. Second, protect your eyes. Eye injuries may increase the risk of developing traumatic glaucoma, so wear protective eyewear when participating in contact sports. Finally, keep in contact with your eye doctor at The Eyewear Place. Regular eye exams can catch glaucoma early, before vision loss and damage occurs. Additionally, your eye doctor can give you individualized advice on how to take care of your eyes so you don't have to worry about developing glaucoma.