When asked about Glaucoma, most people would likely only be able to say that it is an eye disorder. The vast majority of the population is ignorant as to its symptoms, causes, and treatment.
This means that there are thousands, if not millions, of people currently suffering from an undiagnosed condition that can lead to full or partial blindness. Knowing what the early symptoms are is integral to stopping the disease’s progression before permanent nerve damage occurs.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disorder of the eye where the optic nerve is gradually damaged. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world (after cataracts) and the number one cause of blindness in African Americans. If left untreated, the affected eye will lose function permanently.
Most often, it is due to an increase in pressure of the eye’s fluid. Increased pressure n the fluid of the eye, however, does not always necessarily lead to nerve damage (increased pressure simply raises the risk factor significantly).
There are generally two types of glaucoma; “closed angle” and “open angle”. Closed angle occurs rapidly and acutely. It is generally accompanied by severe pain and visual loss can occur quickly.
The acute pain generally leads patients to seek treatment, however, before any drastic effects can take place. Open angle (which accounts for 90% of the cases in the United States), on the other hand, is more gradual and patients may not realize that there is a problem until it is too late, hence its nickname the “silent thief of sight”.
Glaucoma can be diagnosed by an optometrist through a regular eye exam. Those at higher risk should be examined once a year to notice potential changes early.
Causes of Glaucoma
Glaucoma seems to have a variety of genetic and environmental causes. The most prominent of these is an elevation in ocular pressure. In some segments of the population, however, this only occurs in less than half of those diagnosed with Glaucoma.
Certain ethnicities are at a higher risk for Glaucoma. These include most Asian populations, the Inuit, and those of African descent. Women are also three times more likely to have Glaucoma as men are.
Use of steroids has been linked to an increased risk of Glaucoma. Individuals with Diabetes and those who have experienced acute physical trauma to the eye are also at a higher risk.
Treatment of Glaucoma
Once diagnosed, the goal of treatment is usually to slow or halt the progress of the condition. High intraocular pressure can be lowered through medication such as eye drops.
There are a variety of other medicines that can reduce intraocular pressure, though they have a variety of side effects and should be specifically matched to the patient by the doctor. Marijuana, when smoked or eaten, has been shown to lower intraocular pressure as well, if not better, than any medications on the market.
For more advanced cases, surgical treatment is an option though it is generally considered a temporary solution and will not stop the progression entirely. Other procedures are currently being tested and have shown some promise.