Glaucoma is probably among the most common eye disorders and a leading cause of vision loss and permanent blindness. Unfortunately, unlike other eye problems, there is little known about the presenting symptoms and treatment options for glaucoma. However, with prompt medical intervention, the loss of vision can be slowed or stopped.
What is Glaucoma?
Generally, glaucoma is characterized by a collection of eye health problems that damages the major nerve supply to the eye, the optic nerve. Damage to the nerve often results from elevated eye pressure and can cause blindness if not treated. Glaucoma can be caused by excessive pressure in one or both eyes.
While this condition occurs predominantly in adults of old age, it can occur at any age. Therefore, only an ophthalmologist trained to spot early signs of glaucoma can help prevent vision loss. Routine checkups and prompt treatment can slow or prevent vision loss for patients presenting with these signs. Unfortunately, vision loss resulting from glaucoma cannot be reversed.
What Causes Glaucoma?
As mentioned, glaucoma is typically caused by higher-than-normal eye pressure; a medical condition referred to as ocular hypertension. However, in some situations, it can occur even when there is normal pressure in the eye. High eye pressure occurs due to an imbalance in the production and drainage of the aqueous humor, a clear fluid that nourishes the tissues of the front portion of the eye.
Nonetheless, several factors may contribute to increased pressure and glaucoma. They include;
- Hereditary predisposition or family history of glaucoma
- Underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Use of certain drugs, especially steroids
- Eye injuries
- Thin cornea
- Extreme myopia or hyperopia
- Adults aged above 60 years
- Unknown causes
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Symptoms of glaucoma vary depending on the severity and type of glaucoma. However, the common type of glaucoma doesn’t have early warning signs and can only be detected through an extensive eye exam. This is why a regular eye exam is important, as it helps diagnose the condition before a permanent loss of vision occurs. Common symptoms of glaucoma include;
- High ocular pressure
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Cloudy eyes
- Nausea and vomiting
Types of Glaucoma
Glaucoma can be categorized into the following types;
- Open-angle glaucoma – it is the common type of glaucoma that occurs when the drainage angle in the eye remains open, but AQ doesn’t drain fast enough to maintain eye pressure in the normal range.
- Closed-angle glaucoma – this rare type of glaucoma occurs when the iris shifts forward, blocking the eyes’ drainage angle. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, it occurs suddenly and presents with red-eye, severe pain, and nausea. This condition is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to avoid permanent vision loss.
- Secondary glaucoma – as the name suggests, this type of glaucoma results from another eye health condition, such as injury or illness. It can occur as open or narrow-angle glaucoma.
- Developmental glaucoma – also called pediatric or congenital glaucoma, presents from birth and is caused by underlying conditions or injuries that occur in early life.
- Pigmentary glaucoma – in this type, pigment granules from the iris amass in the drainage channels, slowing or blocking fluid drainage from the eye. Physical activities, like jogging, often stir up pigments, depositing them in the eyes’ trabecular meshwork.
- Normal-tension glaucoma – this type of glaucoma occurs when optic nerve damage occurs, yet there is normal eye pressure. It is a rare condition with an unknown etiology. However, some studies suggest that it is caused by conditions that impair the blood supply to the optic nerve.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Glaucoma
A comprehensive eye exam coupled with several tests is necessary to diagnose or determine risk factors for glaucoma. Tonometry is a common test done to measure eye pressures, but the results aren’t enough to make a determination. Therefore, conclusions from tonometry, comprehensive eye exam, visual field tests, and gonioscopy are required to make a conclusive diagnosis.
Following a confirmatory diagnosis, your ophthalmologist may prescribe topical or oral medications, microsurgery, or laser surgery to correct your eye pressure. Eye drops are a common treatment option as they lower the production or increase secretion of the aqueous fluid. Laser surgery is commonly prescribed for open-angle glaucoma to stop fluid blockage, and microsurgery can be done to create a new draining channel that eases eye pressure.
The Bottom Line: Future of Glaucoma and How to Live with Glaucoma
Extensive research on glaucoma has provided great insights into the cause and better treatment options for glaucoma. In the coming future, genetic testing will play a great role in predicting individual risk of glaucoma. Neuroprotective treatments and other new drugs have also shown great promise.
Those diagnosed with this condition should understand that glaucoma is a life-long illness that requires continuous treatment. Apart from ophthalmic care, you should eat healthily, exercise regularly, avoid smoking, stop drinking caffeine, and wear contact lenses to maintain optimal eye health.