What is Glaucoma; its causes, symptoms and treatment

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually damage the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting your eye to the brain. This damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure inside your eye, known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness for people over the age of 60.

Types of glaucoma

The two main types of glaucoma are:

  • Open-angle glaucoma: The most common type. The drainage angle in the eye, where fluid should flow out, remains open, but the microscopic drainage canals become partially blocked, causing the fluid to build up slowly and raise eye pressure.
  • Angle-closure glaucoma: Less common, but can be more severe. The drainage angle becomes completely blocked, usually by the iris bulging forward, causing a rapid rise in eye pressure. This is a medical emergency.

Causes of glaucoma

The exact causes of glaucoma aren’t fully understood, but several factors are involved:

  • High eye pressure: Increased pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) due to the buildup of aqueous humor (fluid in your eye).
  • Age: People over 60 are at higher risk.
  • Ethnicity: People of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent are at increased risk.
  • Family history: Glaucoma can have a genetic component.
  • Medical conditions: Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia can increase risk.
  • Eye injury: Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma.

Symptoms of glaucoma

Glaucoma can be a silent disease, especially in its early stages. Symptoms may not appear until significant damage has occurred. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Open-angle glaucoma:
  • Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes
  • Tunnel vision in the advanced stages
  • Angle-closure glaucoma:
  • Severe eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Red eyes

Prevention of glaucoma

While there’s no sure way to prevent glaucoma, these steps can help:

  • Regular eye exams: Early detection is key. Get dilated eye exams every 1-2 years, especially if you are at higher risk.
  • Manage medical conditions: Control diabetes, blood pressure, and other conditions that increase your risk.
  • Eye protection: Wear protective eyewear during activities that could cause eye injuries.
  • Healthy lifestyle: Exercise, a healthy diet, and not smoking may have a protective effect.

Treatment of glaucoma

Glaucoma cannot be cured, but treatment focuses on lowering eye pressure to prevent further damage. Treatment options include:

  • Eye drops: Medications can either reduce fluid production or help it drain better.
  • Laser surgery: Procedures like trabeculoplasty can help improve fluid drainage.
  • Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS): These procedures create alternative drainage pathways to reduce IOP.
  • Incisional surgery: Used when other treatments fail, traditional surgery creates a new drainage channel in the eye.

Important note: If you experience any symptoms of glaucoma, especially sudden blurry vision or eye pain, seek immediate medical attention from an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).

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