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Glaucoma: Types, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

Glaucoma is an eye condition whereby the eye’s optic nerve is damaged due to pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) which is thought to be caused by the buildup of fluid in the front part of the eye. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to vision loss.

Glaucoma is most common in adults in their 70’s or 80’s, however, it can affect people of all ages.

Symptoms of glaucoma

During the early stages of glaucoma, most people do not experience any symptoms or pain.

Glaucoma is often referred to as the “sneak thief of vision” for these reasons. This is why it is important to have regular eye health check-ups so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated early on to prevent vision loss.

Most cases of glaucoma develop slowly over many years and affect peripheral vision first. However, some cases can develop rapidly and cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including:

  • Eye pain
  • Red-eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Tenderness around the eyes

Glaucoma causes

Most cases of glaucoma are caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye by fluid that is unable to drain properly. This pressure causes damage to the nerve connecting the eye to the brain, known as the optic nerve.

It is not always known what causes this blockage of fluid in the eye; however, it can be hereditary. Injuries to the eye, severe eye infections, inflammatory conditions, and blocked blood vessels in the eye can also cause glaucoma, nevertheless, these are less common. Another rare cause is eye surgery intended to correct another eye condition.

Glaucoma risk factors

Glaucoma usually affects those over 40, however, young adults, children, and infants can still suffer from this eye condition. You are more likely to suffer from glaucoma if:

  • You are of African, Caribbean, or Asian origin
  • You have a family history of glaucoma
  • You are long-sighted or short-sighted
  • You have diabetes, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have high intraocular pressure
  • You have suffered eye injuries or undergone certain eye surgeries
  • Your corneas are thinner than normal
  • You take certain steroid medications or drugs for bladder control or seizures

Types of glaucoma

There are four different types of glaucoma; however, the two main types are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. The other types are normal-tension glaucoma and secondary glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma is also known as wide-angle glaucoma or chronic glaucoma and is the most common type of glaucoma. This is when fluid doesn’t flow out of the drainage system (trabecular meshwork) in the way it should, despite the iris being in the correct position and looking fine.

Angle-closure glaucoma is when the iris is damaged and blocks the drainage. The Iris is squeezed against the cornea causing the drain space between your iris and cornea to become too narrow and preventing fluid from draining as it should.

This type of glaucoma is sometimes referred to as narrow-angle glaucoma or acute or chronic angle-closure.

Glaucoma treatment

While glaucoma treatment can’t restore any vision that is already lost, it can help to prevent it from worsening. Treatments for glaucoma include:

  • Eye drops – these can reduce intraocular pressure
  • Laser surgery – can help to reduce the production of fluid in the eye. It can also open the drainage area improving the flow of liquid
  • Surgery – this can also improve the drainage of fluid

Treatment will be dependent on what type of glaucoma you have, and eye care professional will advise you on this and the course of treatment going forward.

Living with glaucoma

While glaucoma is a lifelong condition and will require continual follow-ups with an eye care professional, there are further measures that you can take to keep your eyes healthy. These include:

  • Regular exercise – certain exercises can lower your eye pressure and help blood flow to the nerves in your eye
  • Following a healthy diet – eating nutrient-rich foods such as dark leafy greens and fish packed with omega 3 fatty acids may not necessarily stop your glaucoma from getting worse but can aid your eye health in other ways
  • Medicines – take your medicine such as eye drops and pills as instructed
  • Don’t smoke – smoking increases eye inflammation and blood pressure which can increase your risk of diabetes and cataracts (both of which are risk factors for glaucoma)
  • Limit caffeine intake – too much caffeine can raise your eye pressure
  • Protect your eyes – glaucoma can cause your eyes to be sensitive to glare so making sure you wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection outside is essential

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