Residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere know how important the sense of sight can be. Whether they’re doing fine physically or receiving palliative care, it’s important to beware of medical conditions that could reduce or limit sight altogether, especially glaucoma.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice work with various clients, including some dealing with this fairly common group of eye disorders. Some of our clients might also be developing some early symptoms, so we encourage them to seek treatment as early as possible.
Generally, glaucoma is caused by pressure in the eye due to a backup of fluid. This can cause damage to the optic nerve.
It can be painful and tiring and eventually can hurt the optic nerve so much that some or all of the vision in that eye is permanently damaged, starting with the peripheral vision and sensitivity to light during night driving.
Although it’s hard to visualize this, the human eye always is in motion and in a liquid environment. A fluid called aqueous humor helps keep the eyes moist and protected, as does blinking. The eye always has a certain precise amount of fluid moving around, but if something causes a disruption, it can be out of balance.
The Glaucoma Foundation which focuses on increasing research into glaucoma uses the analogy of a balloon, where different areas of excess pressure can move fluid around.
One of the weaker points in the eye is the area where the optic nerve leaves the eye. Too much pressure can start to affect the critical nerve cells that relay information to the brain. After enough time passes the cells may begin to die, causing permanent blindness.
Why glaucoma awareness is important
More than 3 million people have glaucoma, and it’s considered the second most common cause of blindness.
One of the more concerning things about glaucoma is that it’s often difficult for individual people to notice or detect on their own.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say as many as 50 percent of people with glaucoma may not realize they have it until they begin suffering the loss of vision. They may feel some pressure, but could easily chalk it up to a chronic headache or general eye pain due to other medical conditions.
It’s also a condition where the risk increases as you age.
Eye professionals recommend regular optical exams, which can detect if there is a change in pressure or the condition of parts of the eye.
The Mayo Clinic suggests going for an exam every 5 to 10 years for those under 40 years old, followed by every 2 to 4 years for ages 40 to 54, every 1 to 3 years for aged 55 to 64, and every 1-2 years for age 65 and over.
If an eye care professional determines that you are at higher risk or showing early signs of glaucoma, they may want you to start coming in more often for more observation.
Other risk factors can include being age 60 or older if there’s a history of glaucoma in your family, any past eye-related trauma, and pre-existing conditions including diabetes. African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to suffer from this than other ethnic groups.
Your eye care provider can offer a variety of tests to determine your vision loss along with the amount of pressure, starting with a dilated eye exam. Then he or she can create a treatment plan. There isn’t a universal cure at this point, but there are a variety of medications and therapies that can reduce or stop the frequency of symptoms.
Some of them focus on decreasing the production of aqueous humor and increasing its flow, which can reduce the amount of pressure. There are also a variety of pharmaceutical options, such as beta-blockers, prostaglandin analogs, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors.
A patient may be required to use certain medicated eyedrops on a regular basis to manage their condition.
Surgery to remove excess aqueous humor is a possibility if pharmaceutical options are not successful. This can be done manually or with a laser.
Medical experts also recommend general lifestyle improvements as well, including more exercise, cutting out smoking, looking for ways to lower blood pressure, and cutting out other unhealthy behaviors.
If you’re already suffering from some elements of early glaucoma, such as limited peripheral vision or poor night vision, your eye care professional may give other suggestions.
Because glaucoma is so common, there are a variety of resources out there, including the National Glaucoma Foundation and the National Eye Health Education Program. The National Eye Institute also organizes National Glaucoma Awareness Month each January. This time of year encourages people to learn more about the risk factors and to make an appointment with their health care provider or eye care provider to learn more. The earlier they can get diagnosed and begin treatment, the better odds they have of preserving and protecting their vision.