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Glaucoma occurs when an excess of ocular (eye) fluid does not drain properly, causing damage to the optic nerve and resulting in blurred vision, a narrowed field of vision with some loss of peripheral vision, and eventually total blindness.
The three main types of glaucoma are:
Glaucoma affects more than 60.5 million people worldwide, a number that is expected to grow as the global population ages. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the US, and costs the U.S. economy around $2.86 billion each year in health care expenditures and lost productivity.
Glaucoma occurs when the eye in unable to balance fluid retention with fluid release, causing eye pressure to increase. However increased eye pressure is not the only cause of glaucoma. Glaucoma can also occur in individuals with normal eye pressure.
Open-angle glaucoma cases are often idiopathic, meaning they have no known cause. However, the following factors may increase the risk of developing the condition.
The following are risk factors for closed-angle glaucoma:
If you or your doctor notice changes in your vision that suggest an eye disease or condition, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist (medical doctor specializing in the eye) for diagnosis. Below are the leading methods of diagnosis for glaucoma:
For open-angle glaucoma, there are almost never any symptoms at the beginning. If the disease progresses, you’ll have blind spots in your peripheral (side) vision.
For closed-angle glaucoma, an attack may bring on the following symptoms quite suddenly.
If you experience any of the following, you should contact a doctor immediately.
Unfortunately, glaucoma often goes untreated and results in severe vision loss or blindness. According the National Foundation of the Blind, about one in every one in every seven or eight cases of blindness in the US is caused by uncontrolled glaucoma. However, with early detection and continued treatment open-angle glaucoma can be controlled, and blindness can be prevented. As for acute-angle glaucoma, prompt treatment at the start of an attack can help control the attack and may allow vision to return to normal. Failure to treat an attack can result in blindness less than two days after the attack began. If you experience any of the symptoms of an acute-angle glaucoma attack, see a doctor immediately
In many cases, depending on the eye disease or condition you have and your response to treatment, your vision may not be not noticeably impaired and you won’t experience any pain or only mild discomfort.
However, you may need to compensate for partial loss of vision if you have a condition such as wet AMD that can’t be treated. Ask your eye care specialist about low-vision rehabilitation devices and services that will help you learn coping strategies so that you can to continue to live independently.
Many people with some vision loss have to stop driving. If that happens to you, visit SeniorDrivingAAA.com to get information about affordable and convenient ways to maintain your mobility.
Here are some top tips for living well with vision impairment:
Serious eye diseases and conditions often have no symptoms until irreversible damage to vision has been done. If you wear prescription glasses and/or contacts, you probably go to an optometrist for an annual check-up to make sure your prescription hasn’t changed and to order a new batch of contacts if you’re running out of them. Optometrists conduct vision tests to check for basic vision impairment, and can prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They can also spot early warning signs and give you a referral to an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor with a medical doctor degree, for a more thorough examination. If you do not wear contact lenses or glasses, chances are you miss out this periodic optometric screening. Many times, family doctors with conduct a visual acuity test, which is a series of letters decreasing in size on a chart that patients are asked to read to the best of their ability. This gives doctors the opportunity to do as the optometrists would.
The standard recommendation for all adults over the age of 40 is to have an eye exam at least every two years, and for adults over 65, to have an eye exam every year. According to the National Federation of the Blind, prompt detection and treatment can preserve your vision for a lifetime even if you do contract a serious eye condition or disorder. Schedule an eye exam with an optometrist. If he or she spots any problems that may be of concern, you will most likely be referred to an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in eyes, for further testing. Be sure to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist and follow recommendations regarding the frequency of follow-ups should any diseases or conditions be detected.
People with diabetes or at risk of developing gestational diabetes are recommended to get additional ophthalmic screening.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the eye screening schedule:
Type 1 Diabetes: Within five years of being diagnosed and yearly thereafter.
Type 2 Diabetes: At the time of diagnosis and yearly thereafter.
During pregnancy: During the first trimester and follow-ups if indicated.
Our best defense against glaucoma is to have regular checkups, because eye diseases do not always have symptoms. Early detection and treatment are the keys to preventing vision loss.
Beyond that, a healthy diet that has sufficient vitamin and other nutrients will help keep your eyes lubricated and free of infections.
Also, avoid second hand smoke and if you smoke, kick the habit.
Protect your eyes from injury by wearing plastic eye guards if you’re involved in any activity that poses a risk of flying objects or particles.
Finally, remember that overexposure to the sun is just as bad for your eyes as it is for your skin. Wear sunglasses and stay away from tanning beds as UV rays can harm and exacerbate eye conditions.
The following treatments are available for glaucoma patients:
Medicated eye drops, such as prostaglandin analogs, beta blockers, alpha antagonists, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, can help to lower intraocular pressure pressure. Typically, one drop of solution is put in each eye every night at bedtime.
Glaucoma surgery For some patients, glaucoma surgery is recommended to improve the flow of fluid out of the eye in order to lower pressure. Surgical procedures include:
Research that has been done on the use of Ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, melatonin, and antioxidants with limited or no evidence of effectiveness. The American Academy of Ophthalmology refutes the widely held belief that marijuana helps treat glaucoma, though this viewpoint is in flux.
In addition to your regularly scheduled visits to your eye care professionals, get immediate medical attention if you notice any sudden change in your vision or experience unusual symptoms such as extreme eye pain, burning, itching, redness, or fluid coming out of your eye. Also, get help if you have an eye injury.
Before you visit your doctor, write down a list of questions and concerns. Consider bringing a friend or family member along who can help you make sure you get all the information you need. In addition, writing down the doctor’s answers and recommendation for later reference is a good idea. Also come prepared with your medical history, information about any allergies you have, your family medical history, and a complete list of all medications you take including over-the-counter herbs and supplements.
Here are some questions you might pose when you visit your optometrist:
Here are some questions you might pose if you are referred to an ophthalmologist:
Are there any lifestyle changes I can make that will help prevent other eye diseases or the progression of the ones I already have?
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