Glaucoma is widely regarded as your eyesight’s biggest enemy worldwide. It remains the leading cause of permanent blindness globally. It is estimated that about 66.8 million people worldwide suffer from one form of Glaucoma or the other.
Glaucoma is most common in adults who are over 40 years but can also develop at any age. There is currently no cure for Glaucoma, but vision loss can be slowed or prevented with early diagnoses and treatment.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of visual disorders that damages the eye’s optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying visual signals from the retina to the brain bringing about sight.
In glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged slowly, leading to gradual loss of vision and permanent blindness. Since the damage occurs very slowly, it is often without any symptoms and may go unnoticed until it gets too late.
As Glaucoma progresses, it often reduces the quality of life, increases the risk of falls, decreases mobility, and causes difficulty driving.
Glaucoma is most times associated with increased pressure inside the eyes. This is because healthy eyes produce a fluid known as the aqueous, which flows through and exits from the eye. This process is affected in Glaucoma, leading to an increase in eye pressure and damage to the optic nerve.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two major types of Glaucoma
Primary open-angle glaucoma
This is the most common type of Glaucoma. This form of Glaucoma happens gradually, whereby the eye does not drain fluid as well as it should. This leads to a build-up of pressure in the eyes, and damage to the optic nerve begins. This type of Glaucoma is often painless and causes no vision loss at the beginning.
Certain people have optic nerves that are very sensitive to the average eye pressure. This means the risk of getting Glaucoma is higher than usual. Regular eye exams can prevent this by finding early signs of damage to the optic nerve.
This type of Glaucoma occurs when the iris is very close to the drainage angle in the eye. As a result, the iris can end up blocking the drainage angle.
When the drainage angle gets completely blocked, eye pressure rises very quickly. This is called an acute attack. This becomes a true eye emergency, and you must visit an ophthalmologist immediately, or you will go blind.
Here are a few signs of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack:
- Your vision is suddenly blurry
- You have a headache
- You have severe eye pain
- You vomit
- You see rainbow-coloured rings
- You have nausea
Most people with angle-closure Glaucoma develop it slowly. This is also called Chronic angle-closure Glaucoma. There are no symptoms at first. Therefore, they are unaware of how severe it is until the damage is done. This is one reason it is called your eyesight’s biggest enemy. Angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness if not treated right away.
Who is at risk for Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a very complex disease and is often associated with genes that have been identified. Many people are at a higher risk of getting Glaucoma. This includes people who:
- Are over the age of 40
- Have family members who have Glaucoma
- African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage
- Have high eye pressure
- farsighted or near-sighted
- Have you had an eye injury or multiple eye surgeries
- Have corneas that are thin in the Center
- Have a thinning of the optic nerve
- Have diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor circulation, or other health problems affecting the body
- Use steroid medication
If you have any of these risk factors, you must see an Ophthalmologist -a medical doctor that specializes in eye and vision care. People with more than one of these risk factors have an even higher risk of getting Glaucoma.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
Glaucoma is your eyesight’s biggest enemy as most people with Glaucoma, especially people with open-angle Glaucoma, may have no or minimal symptoms for years.
It is not surprising that over 50% of glaucoma cases often go undiagnosed, emphasizing the need for regular eye examinations beginning from age 40.
Ophthalmologists can detect signs of Glaucoma before you can. Early intervention is key to preventing disease progression and vision loss.
Early signs of Glaucoma include
- Difficulty with low contrast
- Some loss of peripheral vision
- Certain patients develop loss of their visual field and blind spots
- It ultimately leads to central vision loss.
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Diagnosis of Glaucoma
The only way to correctly diagnose Glaucoma is with a complete eye examination. A glaucoma screening that only checks the eye pressure is not enough to diagnose Glaucoma.
During a glaucoma exam, your ophthalmologist will:
- Measure your eye pressure
- Inspect your eye drainage angle
- Test your peripheral vision
- Examine the eye for optic nerve damage
- Take a picture or computer measurement of your optic nerve
- Measure the thickness of your cornea
Prevention of Glaucoma
You can take steps to detect and manage Glaucoma at the early stages. This helps prevent vision loss or slow down its progress.
- Get regular eye examinations
- Know your family eye health history
- Wear eye protection
- Take prescribed eye drops regularly
- Reduce your screen time
Treatment for Glaucoma
There is currently no cure for Glaucoma. However, prompt treatment can help slow or stop the progression of vision loss. Treatment of Glaucoma depends on several factors, such as the age, type, and severity of your Glaucoma. Treatment may include medication and/or surgery to lower the eye pressure.
Medications for the treatment of Glaucoma include pressure-lowering eye drops that increase the drainage or decrease the production of fluids. Sometimes a laser is used to increase the drainage angle or make an opening in the iris.
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Also, we have several surgical techniques used to create an alternate fluid drainage route in the eye—procedures like filtering surgery and tube-shunt surgery.
In recent times, surgical innovations such as minimally invasive glaucoma surgery can also increase fluid drainage using small implantable stents and shunts.
Glaucoma remains your eyesight’s biggest enemy. If you are worried about Glaucoma, especially for people with a family history of Glaucoma, the best thing to do is to visit your ophthalmologist regularly.
- David Chiedozie Ndeokwelu is a graduate of Microbiology, who holds a Masters degree in public health. He is currently a medical student at the University of Ilorin and is passionate about fields of career, public health, entrepreneurship and career building.
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