What Is Glaucoma?

In today’s society, it’s likely that you or someone you know is at risk of suffering from glaucoma. Though the word glaucoma may be familiar, there are many aspects of glaucoma that aren’t quite as well known. For example, did you know more than 3 million Americans are currently living with this harmful eye disease? Furthermore, experts are predicting that in just five years, more than 80 million aging adults worldwide will be affected by glaucoma.

With startling statistics such as these, it’s easy to see the importance of understanding glaucoma. The remainder of this article will provide helpful insight into this common disease, including what glaucoma actually is, why glaucoma happens, who is at risk of being diagnosed with glaucoma, and how to best treat and prevent it. Before you read on, however, remember that knowing is the body’s best defense.

What Is Glaucoma?

Simply put, glaucoma encompasses various eye disorders that, though hardly detectible in the early stages, eventually lead to the damage of the optic nerve. Without adequate treatment or sufficient diagnosis, this damaged optic nerve can cause some or complete loss of vision.

There are two types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma is defined by the gradual increase in eye pressure due to blockage in the “open” drainage angle of the eye. As this article will later explain, the danger in this form of glaucoma is that the optic nerve is so gradually and painlessly damaged that most sufferers are unaware of the condition until its too late.

Angle-closure glaucoma is similar to open-angle glaucoma but the drainage angle of the eye becomes completely blocked by the iris, causing immense eye pressure. Unlike open-angle glaucoma, the pressure caused by angle-closure glaucoma happens rapidly, causing severe pain, headaches, blurred vision, sickness and more.

Why Does Glaucoma Happen?

With glaucoma, the optic nerve - or bundle of nerves behind the eye that transmit impulses (images) to the brain - experiences a buildup of immense pressure, called intraocular pressure. The more this pressure continues to build, the more damage is caused to the optic nerve. Without treatment intraocular pressure will result in irreparable loss of vision in just a few short years.

What makes glaucoma alarming is the fact that detecting the disease is very difficult. Intraocular pressure first begins to affect the eye by damaging a significant number of nerves that cause blind spots to develop. The trouble is most people don’t take notice of these blind spots until permanent damage is caused. By the time blind spots are detected, most of the optic nerve is already destroyed.

Who Is At Risk For Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is generally an inherited trait that typically doesn’t present itself until later in life. Other strong risk factors include:

  • High eye pressure
  • African Americans 40-years-old and older
  • Caucasians and Latinos 60-years-old and older
  • Severe nearsightedness
  • Diabetes and hypertension
  • High blood pressure
  • Eye injury
  • Eye surgery
  • Thin cornea
  • Steroid use
  • History of anemia and/or shock

How Is Glaucoma Prevented Or Treated?

Though glaucoma cannot be prevented, if caught early enough, it can be treated and controlled. Treatment for this disease is given on a case-by-case basis, and typically includes eye drops, pills, laser treatment, surgical operations and more. These all work to reduce eye pressure and prevent any further vision loss. If treatment plans are followed properly, most patients suffering from glaucoma do not experience any further blindness.

As mentioned previously in the article, glaucoma is generally difficult to detect. However, there are warning signs that may be present in glaucoma patients, including:

  • Difficulty adjusting from dark to light rooms
  • Trouble focusing on objects near or far
  • Sensitivity to lights/glare
  • Change of iris color
  • Irritated eyes – red, encrusted or swollen
  • Burred or double vision
  • Dark spots in sight
  • Wavy or distorted lines
  • Watering or excess tearing of the eye
  • Itching or burning dry eyes
  • Spots or ghost-like images in vision

You should also see an optometrist as soon as possible if you have sudden loss of vision in one eye, sudden haziness or blurred vision, flashes of light, dark spots, or halo-like rainbows around lighted objects. Though these symptoms don’t necessarily qualify you as a glaucoma patient, you should contact your optometrist if you experience more than one of the symptoms above.

The best way to protect your eyes for damage caused by glaucoma is to regularly visit your eye doctor, especially if your family has a history of eye disorders like glaucoma.

We’re eager to help you find reliable eye care at an affordable price. With a nationwide network of qualified optometrists and dependable vision insurance plans, VSP Direct promises to help you prevent damaging eye diseases like glaucoma. We value the importance of vision health and look forward to partnering with you to ensure you have the best, most affordable eye care possible.

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