What is Glaucoma? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options
Beyond allowing eye doctors to provide you with updated glasses or contact lens prescriptions, your annual eye appointments are a valuable way to detect potentially serious eye problems when they’re most treatable. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness, and can only be detected early by your eye doctor. Here’s a bit more about the condition, and how it can be treated.
What Is Glaucoma?
“Glaucoma” is an umbrella term used for a group of eye conditions which can cause changes in the optic nerve, and resulting vision loss. Glaucoma is a primary cause of blindness in adults over the age of 60, but early intervention can halt the progress of complete blindness.
Most frequently glaucoma is caused by an increased buildup of internal fluid, and resulting pressure on the eye. This “aqueous humor” fluid typically drains naturally from the eye through the tissue where the iris and cornea meet. But when your natural drainage system is impeded, or this fluid builds up in the area for any other reason, the pressure increases. Gradually, this pressure can lead to blind spots in your field of vision, and deterioration of the optic nerve.
By the age of 40, the Glaucoma Research Foundation recommends all adults receive a baseline glaucoma screening by the age of 40. Based on your risk factors, your doctor will make recommendations for how often you should be further screened. These risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, or a family history of glaucoma.
How is Glaucoma Detected?
Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs or immediate symptoms, as it is often a slow-developing condition. A dilated eye exam provided by an eye doctor during an in-office screening can, however, detect subtle changes to the eye that may indicate the onset of glaucoma. Special eye drops are administered during this procedure to dilate the pupils, providing a comprehensive view of your eye’s internal structure, including the retina and optic nerve.
Because what’s normal for one person may be different for another, only a comprehensive vision exam with a dilated eye exam can accurately detect early symptoms of glaucoma.
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
If glaucoma has already caused damage to your optic nerve, unfortunately, reversal of that damage is not currently possible. Which is why catching the condition early during an eye exam can help you delay or prevent further vision loss.
In an effort to treat existing glaucoma symptoms, your doctor may use the following methods to decrease further pressure on your eye:
- Prescription eye drops
- Oral medications
- Surgical interventions, including laser therapy
- Lifestyle modifications, including vitamin supplements, reduced caffeine consumption, and routine exercise
The research on glaucoma, its causes and treatments continues however, including an October 2021 study of possible new therapies. Of the study, Dr. Susan Quaggin, chief of nephrology and hypertension in the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine hopefully explains: “Our hope is that this study leads to the first targeted therapy that effectively promotes (aqueous humor) fluid outflow from the front of an eye, reversing the underlying biologic defect in patients with glaucoma.”