January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time to educate ourselves about this condition that affects over 3 million Americans and is a leading cause of irreversible blindness today. There is no cure for glaucoma, so early detection and treatment are essential for preserving vision.
Glaucoma is actually not a single disease, but rather a group of diseases that progressively damage the optic nerve. The most common form, primary open-angle glaucoma, involves deterioration of the optic nerve tissue that is gradual and painless. For this reason, those affected may lose a significant portion of their vision without even noticing. Another type of glaucoma is angle-closure glaucoma, which can be acute or chronic. Acute angle-closure glaucoma may be accompanied by symptoms such as:
- Pain and redness in the eye
- Halos or colored rings appearing around lights
- Blurred vision
- Severe headache
- Nausea and vomiting
Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency, so you should go to the emergency room or ophthalmologist immediately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Both primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma involve an increase in intraocular pressure, which is the pressure inside your eye. This happens when there is either an overproduction of fluid inside your eye or improper drainage of it.
The best way to protect yourself from glaucoma is to get regular comprehensive eye examinations. If detected early enough, there are a variety of glaucoma treatments that help reduce pressure in the eye and slow the damage to the optic nerve, including medications, surgery, and drainage implants. You should also be aware of the risk factors of glaucoma, which include:
- Age: People over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma.
- Race: Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native Alaskan people are at an increased risk for certain types of glaucoma.
- Family history: If someone in your family has had glaucoma, you may also be at an increased risk for developing it.
- Eye injury: Past trauma to the eye can cause intraocular pressure to increase, increasing the risk of glaucoma in the future.
- Medical conditions: People with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia may have a greater risk of glaucoma.
- Eye anatomy: Having thin corneas, sensitive optic nerves, or extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness may increase risk of glaucoma.
- Medications: Prolonged use of corticosteroids may increase risk of secondary glaucoma.
The National Eye Institute predicts that the number of Americans with glaucoma could double over the next three decades. Educating yourself about it now is a smart step, and you can now share what you’ve learned with your friends and family. Enjoy the rest of the month, and as always, stay healthy and stay safe!
–The Wellness and Stress Clinic Team