You probably already know that eyesight often declines as you age. It is true that a gradual decrease in near vision is considered a normal part of aging, but there are other serious eye conditions that you should not shrug off as simple age-related vision loss. Glaucoma is one of them. Although the symptoms are mild or unnoticeable at first, the condition can lead to permanent vision loss if it is not treated properly. Here's what you need to know about glaucoma.
What is glaucoma?
You've probably been told that glaucoma is abnormally high pressure in the eye. This is not entirely true. Increased pressure in the eye is the most common cause of glaucoma, but the Mayo Clinic explains that glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is the resulting damage to the optic nerve, not the increased pressure in the eye. Some people who have glaucoma have normal pressure readings in the eye.
What are the causes of glaucoma?
Your eye contains a fluid called aqueous humor. This fluid is found in the front part of the eye. Under normal circumstances, your eye continually makes aqueous humor, and the excess fluid drains away from the eye. When the drains become blocked or damaged, the fluid builds up and causes increased pressure in the eye. The pressure from the fluid presses on the optic nerve at the back of your eye, causing damage to the nerve. Because the optic nerve is responsible for transferring visual stimuli to the brain, damage to the nerve affects your vision.
Why is glaucoma dangerous?
Some people have glaucoma and are not aware of it. Because the symptoms develop gradually, you may not notice a decrease in vision until the vision loss is severe. While glaucoma is treatable in early stages, it is a progressive disease. If left unchecked, it can cause permanent damage to the optic nerve and may result in total blindness. There is no way to correct damage to the nerve once it has occurred. Treating glaucoma early and halting the effects on the optic nerve is necessary to maintain the health of your eyes and protect your vision.
Who is at risk for glaucoma?
Some people are at a higher risk of glaucoma and should have their eyes checked frequently, even if they are not experiencing vision problems. This includes people over 45, those with either nearsightedness or farsightedness, those with diabetes, people who take oral steroid medications, and those who have experienced prior eye injuries. In some cases, glaucoma is hereditary. If you have a family history of glaucoma, tell your eye doctor and seek regular eye exams.
How do you know if you have glaucoma?
Some people have no symptoms and are shocked to discover they have glaucoma. Many experience a gradual decline in peripheral vision, which is often overlooked or ignored as simply a part of aging. Your eye doctor can examine your eye to determine whether you have glaucoma. This is part of a regular eye exam. Common tests include a puff of air in the eye and a close-up examination where your eye doctor uses special equipment to view the back of your eye and optic nerve.
How is glaucoma treated?
Your eye doctor will assess your eyes and make recommendations for treatments. For some people, that means using special eye drops on a daily basis. For others, it may mean laser surgery. Laser surgery may include opening a drainage area to let fluid drain (trabeculoplasty), making a small hole in the iris to encourage fluid to flow freely (iridotomy) or treatment to the middle eye to slow down fluid production (cyclophotocoagulation). The surgeon may implant small drains to help drain away excess fluid. People with glaucoma must follow the doctor's instructions carefully and maintain a regular routine of professional eye care to assess the condition of their eyes.
If you have a family history of glaucoma or have any of the risk factors associated with glaucoma, talk to your eye doctor about how frequently you should have routine eye exams. For more information, check out websites like http://montgomeryeye.com/.
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