You may have heard of glaucoma before… According to the CDC, about 3 million Americans have it. But what exactly is glaucoma? What causes so many folks to develop this condition? Most importantly, how can you slow down the progression of glaucoma?

In this blog, we’ll answer all your questions and fill you in on how to protect your vision from this common disorder.

Glaucoma – The Silent Thief of Sight

Glaucoma is an ocular eye disease that is caused by damage to the optic nerve. Your optic nerves relay messages from the eyes to the brain, creating visual images. Your optic nerves have a critical role in your eyesight, so when one becomes damaged, that is a direct threat to your vision.

Glaucoma is commonly called “the silent thief of sight” due to the way it can sneak up on patients. It can cause such a gradual loss of vision that you might not notice any issues. Because of this, it is often recognized when it is in its most advanced and untreatable stages. Glaucoma causes a loss of peripheral vision or total vision loss in the most severe cases. It is actually the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Thankfully if detected early enough, it’s possible to slow the progression with glaucoma treatment.

Take the case of Vistar patient Carolyn Mathena’s story, for example. After undergoing surgery for Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy, she was experiencing eye pain and some blurriness in her vision that “almost looked milky.” When she visited her ophthalmologist, they determined that Carolyn had extremely high eye pressure but no pain, which is a common sign of glaucoma. Carolyn was referred to Dr. Tad Schoedel at Vistar Eye Center who was able to provide the eye care she needed. Dr. Schoedel said, “At those pressures, permanent vision loss can occur in a matter of hours.” But Dr. Schoedel created a strategic treatment plan: a combination of drops, laser, and surgery. There’s a wide range of possible glaucoma surgeries spanning from minimally-invasive surgery to larger shunt/filter procedures. In Carolyn’s case, Dr. Schoedel helped her choose the least invasive solution.

After taking each step, Carolyn was back to living life normally, enjoying great eyesight! Carolyn also wanted to offer these words of advice to everyone: “Pay attention to your vision. Even if it’s just subtle changes, make sure to ask your eye doctor about it.”

Glaucoma Types & Symptoms

There are five main different types of glaucoma, which each lead to unique symptoms.

Open-Angle Glaucoma

This form occurs when fluid pressure builds up in the eye and puts pressure on the optic nerve. This type is typically painless, so patients may not notice the gradual decrease in their vision. Signs include:

  • No symptoms in the early stages
  • Gradually, patchy blind spots in peripheral vision (usually not noticeable by the patient)
  • Loss of peripheral vision (sometimes not noticeable by the patient)
  • Loss of central vision (when it’s too late and the lost vision cannot be restored)

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the iris suddenly bulges and fully blocks the eye’s drainage system. This causes the intraocular pressure to increase rapidly. Without immediate medical attention, this can irreversibly damage your eye. Signs include:

  • Severe headache
  • Severe eye pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Halos or colored rings around lights
  • Eye redness

Pediatric Glaucoma

Many cases of childhood glaucoma have no identifiable cause, but it may develop due to eye injuries, previous eye surgeries, or medical conditions. Signs include:

  • A dull or cloudy eye (infants)
  • Increased blinking (infants)
  • Tears without crying (infants)
  • Blurred vision
  • Nearsightedness that gets worse
  • Headache

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

This form of glaucoma is caused when optic nerve damage occurs at low or normal pressures. Abnormalities in the blood flow to the optic nerve and structural weakness of the optic nerve tissue Signs include:

  • No symptoms in the early stages
  • Gradually, blurred vision In later stages, loss of side vision

Pigmentary Glaucoma

Pigmentary glaucoma forms when pigment is released from the iris pigment epithelium. This type occurs most commonly in males, patients with nearsightedness, and patients between 20-40 years old. Signs include:

  • Halos around lights
  • Blurred vision with exercise
  • Gradual loss of side vision

Risk Factors of Glaucoma

There are a variety of factors that increase one’s risk of developing glaucoma, such as:

  • Having high internal eye pressure, or intraocular pressure
  • Having corneas that are thinner than normal
  • Being 40 years of age or older
  • Black, Asian, or Hispanic heritage
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Past eye injuries or surgeries
  • Certain medical conditions, such as migraines, sickle cell anemia, and diabetes

While anyone can develop glaucoma, experts say that individuals with diabetes are twice as likely as non-diabetics to develop glaucoma. Additionally, it’s estimated that almost all Type 1 Diabetes patients and over 60% of Type 2 Diabetes patients are expected to develop diabetic retinopathy within the first 20 years of their diagnosis.

Diabetic Retinopathy is often considered a precursor to glaucoma. Diabetic Retinopathy is a disease that causes the blood vessels servicing the optic nerve to weaken due to excess blood sugar. This will typically lead to increased intraocular pressure, raising one’s susceptibility to glaucoma. So it’s imperative that patients do their best to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Taking proper care is beneficial to both your general health and your eye health!

Slowing the Progression of Glaucoma

Moderate exercise and a good diet are excellent for your general health and organs — eyes included. We recommend that you load up on leafy greens! Havard researchers recently found that regularly consuming dark-leafy green vegetables like spinach, arugula, and collard greens can reduce your risk of glaucoma by 20-30%. These vegetables are packed with naturally-occurring nitrates which the body converts to nitric oxide (NO). NO is essential for maintaining optimal blood flow or circulation.

Getting regular eye exams is a key step you can take to save your vision from glaucoma as they are truly the only way to determine if you have glaucoma. Be sure to tell your doctor your full medical history and your family history as best as you are able to, as these can help them recognize your risk. If you ever have any concerns about your vision, don’t wait to seek treatment.

Change Your Life With Help From Vistar Eye Center

Protecting your eyesight is a team effort, and you are the captain of that team! Learn how to maintain your eye health with more eye-opening information on our blog.