Vision should never be taken for granted. Appreciating one’s sense of sight involves scheduling routine eye exams and taking steps to protect one’s eyes. But safeguarding vision also involves understanding the various conditions that can affect eye health.
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that can lead to progressive damage to the optic nerve. People who experience glaucoma can lose nerve tissue and eventually suffer vision loss. Understanding what contributes to glaucoma can help people take the steps necessary to reduce their risk.
The American Optometric Association says that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 60 — although it can occur at any age. The Mayo Clinic states that many forms of glaucoma produce no warning signs and changes in vision may occur so gradually they are not detected until the condition has reached an advanced stage.There are various types of glaucoma. However, primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form, affecting about three million Americans, indicates the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Primary open-angle glaucoma occurs when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time and fluid cannot drain out of the eye. As a result, intraocular pressure rises and damages the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting signals from the eye to the brain. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans over age 40 and Hispanics over the age of 60 have an increased risk, says the AOA. Those with thin corneas, which is the outer layer of the eye, also are at an elevated risk of developing glaucoma.
A less common type of glaucoma is called acute-closure glaucoma, which occurs due to an abrupt and rapid increase of eye pressure. This is an emergency situation that requires prompt care to prevent vision loss.
An eye doctor will conduct various tests to determine if a patient is at risk for glaucoma. The Mayo Clinic says tonometry is commonly used to measures intraocular pressure. During this test, the eye surface will be anesthetized with special drops. A tonometer will be applied lightly to the cornea, indenting it slightly. The resistance will be measured and calculated to determine if pressure is present. Other tests include the following:• imaging tests that look for optic nerve damage that involve a dilated eye examination;
• visual field tests to check for areas of vision loss;
• pachymetry, which measures corneal thickness; and
• an inspection of the drainage angle of the eye.
The effects of glaucoma cannot be reversed, but glaucoma can be caught early. Medications and lifestyle changes, like more frequent eye exams, can improve symptoms. Prescription eye drops can reduce the production of aqueous humor (fluid) in the eye and improve outflow of that fluid. Oral medications and surgery are other options as well.