Of all the conditions that impact your senses with age, glaucoma may be the hardest to see…no pun intended. According to glaucoma.org, while an estimated 2.2 million Americans may be living with glaucoma, only half of them are aware of their affliction. Awareness is absolutely critical with a condition that is one of the leading causes of blindness among older adults. Indeed, awareness goes hand-in-hand with screening and prevention, which could be the difference between vision and blindness for many aging Americans.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but there are ways to treat and reduce its impact. First though, you must know what to look for.
What It Is
According to Medicine.net, our eyes can become less efficient at draining waste as we age. The result is an intraocular pressure that can inhibit vision and damage the optic nerve. Left untreated, this pressure may ultimately deprive one of vision altogether. The two most common types of glaucoma are known as primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. While their symptoms are different, both contribute to similar long-term optic damage.
What to Look For
The trickiest thing about glaucoma is the fact that its symptoms will rarely be evident until the condition has reached more advanced stages. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of advanced open-angle glaucoma will include gradual loss of peripheral vision and, eventually, total tunnel vision. By contrast, signs of angle-closure glaucoma may include eye pain, nausea, sudden onset visual disturbance, blurred vision, light halos and reddening of the eye. The Mayo Clinic notes that one can suffer from both forms at once.
How To Prevent It
In light of the fact that many of these symptoms won’t surface until the condition has reached a certain degree of severity, your very best defense is to see your ophthalmologist with regularity. The Clinic recommends scheduling eye doctor appointments at least every three to five years after the age of 40. After 60, that number should go down to once every one or two years.
You should also be aware of the risk factors. Glaucoma.org indicates that African Americans are 15 times more likely to become visually impaired by glaucoma than are Caucasians. For this reason, it may be advisable to begin scheduling regular eye appointments starting at age 30.
Other risk factors may be lifestyle-related. According to Vision and Eye Health, smoking is known to restrict blood flow, leading to a greater risk of intraocular pressure. Simply stated, smoking cessation is a great way to lessen your risk of glaucoma.
So too are diet and exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, diabetes may also contribute to your risk of glaucoma. Improve your physical regimen and your nutritional intake and you may also improve your chances of having clear vision as you age.
How to Treat It
The advantage to staying on a regular screening schedule is that early detection may help prevent further damage. While glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be managed and its impact can be contained in most cases.
According to the Glaucoma Foundation, eye drops are a common part of the treatment strategy and will usually become a part of the patient’s daily self-care routine thereafter. When drops alone are not sufficient to reduce pressure, pills may be prescribed. In both cases, be sure your physician knows of any other prescriptions you might already be taking or allergies that you might have.
The Glaucoma Foundation also reports that many patients benefit from laser surgery. Laser surgery is minimally invasive, conducted on an outpatient basis, has a high success rate and presents minimal risk of complication. These qualities have made it an increasingly popular option.
It also helps to underline the good news, which is that with regular screening and healthy lifestyle decisions, glaucoma can be contained.