Glaucoma refers to a group of medical conditions, which harm and in most cases damage the optic nerve of the eye. The optic nerve is very critical for a good vision and is damaged mostly by intense pressure caused on the eye. Glaucoma worsens with time and can often cause blindness in people over the age of 60 years. Even though the condition is more common in elders, it can occur at any age.
In many cases, glaucoma is hereditary and runs in the family. Some forms of the condition do not have any warning signs and are thus, often detected when the condition has worsened. The overall impact may be noticeable only when the condition reaches an advanced stage.
Since a loss of vision caused due to glaucoma cannot be recovered it is advisable to have regular eye exams. These examinations should also include checking the eye pressure, to allow a diagnosis to be made in the earlier stages and hence, treated properly. If the condition is diagnosed early, the loss of vision can be prevented or caused to slow down. For patients that have glaucoma, the treatment can continue for the rest of their lives.
Types of Glaucoma
Different types of glaucoma include:
Open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common form of glaucoma.In this issue, the drainage works properly but the trabecular meshwork is temporarily blocked. This increases the pressure in the eyes, which further intensifies with time. The pressure further damages the optic nerve.
Angle-closure glaucoma: This is also called closed-angle glaucoma.This condition occurs when the iris comes forward and blocks or narrows the drainage angle of the cornea and iris. This restricts the fluid circulation causing the pressure to intensify.
Normal-tension glaucoma: There is no specific reason for this type of glaucoma. In this problem, the optic nerve gets damaged even when the pressure of the eye is normal. Possible causes could be sensitive optic nerve or less blood supply to the nerve.
Pigmentary glaucoma: In this type of glaucoma, the granules of pigments of the iris accumulate in the drainage. This tends to block or slow down the fluid from exiting the eye. Jogging or other such related physical activities can cause the stirring of pigments.
That said, children can also have glaucoma, which could be present since birth or could develop in the first few years post-birth. This could be because of an underlying condition or drainage blockages.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
In most cases, glaucoma produces no symptoms and advances with age. Hence, the symptoms vary per the stage of the problem and the type of glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma: This condition can cause patch-like blind spots in the side or the central vision. Typically, this affects both eyes of the person.
Acute angle-closure glaucoma: If a person has this type of glaucoma, the following symptoms may appear:
- Frequent and severe headache
- Extreme pain in the eyes
- Blurry vision
- Formations around the lights
- Redness in the eyes
For patients left untreated, the condition can worsen over time to cause blindness.
Causes of Glaucoma
Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve of the eye is damaged. When the nerve slowly deteriorates, the eye starts to witness the development of blind spots in the visual fields. One of the major causes of this problem is the increased pressure on the eyes.
The increased pressure causes fluid to build-up, which flows in the eyes. This fluid is generally drained via a tissue known as the trabecular meshwork, at the point where iris and cornea meet. However, when there is an excessive build-up of fluid in the body or if the drainage does not work well to remove the fluid, the eye pressure can increase, causing glaucoma. In most cases, the problem is related to the genes and runs in the family.
Risk Factors of Glaucoma
Severe forms of glaucoma can completely cause a complete loss of vision even before any warning signs appear. However, some risk factors that increase the risk of a person for this condition include:
- High internal eye pressure
- People above the age of 60
- Asian, black or Hispanic race
- Family history of glaucoma
- Medical problems such as diabetes, heart problem, high blood pressure, etc.
- People who have a cornea that is thinner in the centre
- People who have high nearsightedness or farsightedness vision issues
- Eye injury
- Eye surgery
- Continued usage of eye drops or other corticosteroid medications
Diagnosis of Glaucoma
To diagnose the problem, the doctor will conduct a comprehensive eye exam and also understand the medical history of the patient. For this purpose, the doctor may conduct several tests, such as:
- Tonometry that measures the intraocular pressure
- Dilated eye exam to test the optic nerve damage
- Imaging tests
- Visual field test to assess the extent of vision loss
- Pachymetry exam to measure the thickness of the cornea
- Gonioscopy to know the drainage functioning
Treatment of Glaucoma
Glaucoma cannot be reversed. However, some medications and regular eye exams can help to prevent complete vision loss or slow down the process. This is even more beneficial in cases where the problem is detected in its early stages.
Typically, glaucoma can be treated in its initial stages by reducing the eye pressure. Also, certain medications, eye drops, laser treatment, surgery or a combined approach of two or more methods, can be used to treat the condition.
Prevention of Glaucoma
Some self-eye care can help prevent glaucoma in the early stages. These include:
- Regular dilated eye examinations
- Knowing the family history and taking early precautions
- Regular and moderate exercise can help reduce eye pressure
- Taking prescribed medications and eyedrops regularly
- Wearing eye protection in potentially harmful activities such as adventure sports, etc.
Overall, glaucoma is an irreversible problem. But the condition can be prevented with early diagnosis through regular eye check-ups and other medications, etc.