Health Corner: Glaucoma Awareness Month

By Yvette Burch R.N.

As we move closer to the holiday season, this is an excellent time to remember our own health needs. January is NATIONAL GLAUCOMA AWARENESS MONTH. What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a disease of the eye caused by increased optic pressure which (untreated) can lead to nerve damage and POTENTIAL BLINDNESS. Vision loss due to glaucoma cannot be reversed.

The two main types of this disease are (1) open angle glaucoma and (2) acute angular closure. Open angle is the most common type. In this type, the structures of the eye are normal, but fluid does not flow properly through the drain of the eye. Angular closure is less common but can cause a sudden buildup of fluid.

Neovascular glaucoma
Neovascular glaucoma (Photo credit: Community Eye Health)

Drainage may be poor because the angle between the iris and the cornea is too narrow. It may also be poor because the pupil is too wide, narrowing the angle and blocking the proper flow of fluid through the channel.

Key RISK FACTORS for glaucoma are (1) having a family history of the disease, (2) being over the age of 45. African-Americans have a high incidence of this disease.

f you have health problems such as diabetes, you may need to visit your doctor more frequently (at least once or twice a year). Less common causes of glaucoma could include a blunt or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, the blocking of blood vessels in the eye, or inflammatory conditions of the eye. Glaucoma usually occurs in both eyes, but may involve each eye to a different extent.

SYMPTOMS of early open angle glaucoma include loss of vision fields, while the loss of ‘side’ vision does not occur until late in the course of the disease. Rarely patients may also experience haziness of vision or see halos around lights, especially in the morning.

The symptoms of acute angular closure are dramatic and include the rapid onset of severe eye
pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and visual blurring.

GLAUCOMA IS A DISEASE THAT CAN BE CONTROLLED, although nerve damage and visual loss from the disease cannot be reversed. Proper treatment can make eye pressure normal and prevent or stop further nerve damage and visual loss. Treatment may involve eye drops, pills (rarely), laser procedure, or surgery.

Here in the United States the use of eye drops is the standard treatment for both types of glaucoma.

Eye drops are generally taken several times a day and work by decreasing the production of aqueous fluid or by increasing the drainage of fluid out of the eye. Each type of therapy has its benefits and potential complications.

While primary open angle glaucoma cannot be prevented, optic nerve damage and visual loss can be prevented by early diagnosis, effective treatment, and compliance with treatment. Secondary types of glaucoma can often be prevented by the avoidance of trauma to the eye and by obtaining immediate treatment of eye inflammation and other diseases of the eye or body that may cause other forms of this disease.

The FUTURE treatment of glaucoma will be based on new eye drops which will continue to become available. Some drops will be new classes of agents while other drops will combine existing agents in one bottle to improve effectiveness and lower costs.

Researchers are especially interested in finding new ways to help those patients who seem to be having progressive nerve damage and loss of vision even though they have normal eye (ocular) pressure. If these new studies in eye drops can be shown to protect the optic nerve from the damage caused by glaucoma, this would be a great advance in preventing blindness.

Educating the public about this disease together with treatment is our best hope to reduce vision loss. For more information about glaucoma visit the Wills Wye website at http://www.willseye.org/glaucoma -service

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