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Glaucoma is an eye disease that is the number one cause of blindness for adults over the age of 60, although it can impact people at any age.
There are very few early warning signs for glaucoma. The best way to know if you have it is to get regular eye exams.
Several factors, such as family history, can increase your risk for glaucoma. In order to prevent and minimize your risk for vision loss, you will need to keep the pressure in your eyes down.
Once glaucoma is diagnosed, there are many successful treatment methods for slowing and even stopping the progression of the disease.
Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease that has very few early warning signs, but without treatment, it can lead to blindness.
The disease occurs when the pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) gets too high and damages the optic nerve. As the pressure in the eye increases the damage to the optic nerve, this can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness.
The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, has no symptoms prior to peripheral vision loss most of the time. You may also experience patchy vision or blind spots. Generally, the early signs of glaucoma are not apparent until vision loss has taken place.
How to Tell If You Have Normal Tension Glaucoma
Optic nerve damage is a common symptom of normal tension glaucoma, but it is not necessarily one that you will notice. Often it gets revealed only during one of a few glaucoma tests you take at the doctor’s office.
An eye-pressure test is one of those diagnostics.
Another possible tell for glaucoma is blind spots in your field of vision. Eye doctors consider blind spots to be serious no matter the reason, and you will want to have that symptom checked out thoroughly.
Pigmentary Glaucoma Symptoms
When the material that colors your iris (pigment) rubs off the back of the iris, you may develop pigment dispersion syndrome (PDS). This condition can trigger eye pressure issues, causing pigmentary glaucoma.
If you have pigmentary glaucoma, you may experience blurred vision or see halos during physical activity (running, biking, doing weekend warrior chores, etc.). This is another red flag, and you’ll want to set up time to see your eye specialist as soon as possible.
Vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible. Early detection is essential to minimizing possible damage.
The best way to spot glaucoma early on, and therefore start treatment to stop or slow the progression of the disease, is through regular eye exams.
The Eye Pressure Test (Tonometry)
To check if your eye pressure is within the normal range, your optometrist may perform tonometry. This testing process is:
- Your optometrist administers dye and numbing medication into your eye
- He or she will shine a light directly into your eye
- The doctor will touch, softly, the front of your eye with a tonometer to measure eye pressure
Optic Nerve Exam
This assessment is necessary as optic nerve damage is a common symptom of glaucoma. The test proceeds as follows:
- Your pupils are dilated with eye drops
- Your optometrist uses an imaging technique like optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanning to visualize and assess the back of the eye
- Or he or she uses a slit lamp to scan your eyes
Visual Field Test
You may take a visual field test to check your eyes for blind spots. That process is:
- Your optometrist shows you multiple light spots in sequence
- The eye specialist asks you to push a button when you see a light spot
- Some light dots should appear at the edges of your vision if your eyes are healthy
- If you can’t see the light dots in the edges of your vision, it means you have blind spots, which may be glaucoma-related
Angle-closure Glaucoma - A Medical Emergency
A less common form of glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, can involve acute attacks. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma comes with certain symptoms, such as:
- Declining or blurred vision
- Acute pain in the eye or forehead
- Redness of the eye
- Nausea or vomiting
- Seeing halos around light
An acute angle-closure glaucoma attack is a medical emergency. If you spot these signs, emergency medical attention is needed.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
You should be screened for glaucoma during routine eye exams. These eye exams should begin in adulthood, especially older adulthood.
An exam that tests the pressure of your eye will include pupil dilation and IOP measurements to screen for glaucoma.
There are certain risk factors for glaucoma. The following can increase your odds of developing glaucoma:
- Genetics: This disease is considered to be hereditary, as it runs in families. If someone in your immediate family suffers from glaucoma, you have a four to nine times greater risk of also developing the disease.
- Age: Glaucoma is most prevalent in adults over age 60.
- Race: African Americans, people of African descent, Hispanics, and those of Asian descent are all at higher risk for glaucoma even early in life, as early as age 40.
- Corticosteroid use: Long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids, raises the risk for glaucoma.
- Hypertension, extreme myopia (nearsightedness), thin corneas, and diabetes: Medical conditions and biological factors, including corneal thickness, chronic eye inflammation, and certain illnesses, can increase the pressure in your eye and therefore put you at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Eye trauma: Injury to the eye can increase your IOP and therefore lead to glaucoma.
Preventative measures can help to minimize your risk for glaucoma.
- Get routine eye exams.
- Eat a well-rounded and nutritious diet.
- Stay hydrated.
- Exercise regularly to promote blood flow.
- Do not smoke, and regulate your caffeine intake.
- Protect your eyes from injury, trauma, and the sun. Wear eye protection.
You may not be able to completely control the onset of glaucoma, but you can take steps to keep your eyes healthy and catch its development as early as possible.
Slowing the Progression of Glaucoma
Once glaucoma has been diagnosed, you can prevent vision loss and slow the progression of the disease by taking certain steps.
- Continue to get regular eye exams to monitor your IOP.
- Take measures to lower the pressure in your eye through treatments, such as medications, laser procedures, or surgeries. Daily prescription eye drops are often needed.
- Follow all directions from your eye care provider and doctor.
- Take any prescribed medications exactly as directed, and report any vision changes or possible side effects to your doctor immediately.
- Sleep with your head elevated, such as on a wedge pillow, to keep your head above your heart. This can lower the pressure in your eyes.
- Talk to your doctor about exercise to make sure that you are staying within a healthy range for your eyes.
Glaucoma is a progressive eye disease. Once you start losing vision, you can't reverse the damage. You can slow or stop future vision loss, however.
Keeping your IOP under control can help to prevent blindness. With proper treatment, most people do not go blind from glaucoma.
While it can be tough to spot the early signs of glaucoma on your own, regular visits with an eye care provider can help you detect the disease early.
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Understanding Your Glaucoma Diagnosis. (October 2017). Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Glaucoma Diagnosis. (February 26, 2021). The National Health Service. Date fetched: August 6, 2021.