Should You Be Worried About Glaucoma?

People have a tendency to forget about eye health. Even those who head to the doctor each year for their annual physical oftentimes leave their eyes out of sight. Until vision becomes a problem, which it does for everyone as they age, or until the eyes become bothersome, many feel they don’t need to add an annual eye exam to their overall wellness routine. Glaucoma and other serious eye diseases are diagnosed during that annual eye exam, so you should worry about your eye health, too.

What Is Glaucoma?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve.” In most cases, it is caused by excess fluid in the front of your eye that puts pressure on and eventually damages your optic nerve. Ophthalmology experts, such as Dr. Rohit Varma, diagnose and treat two different types of glaucoma, primary open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma. The first, primary open-angle glaucoma, is more common than the latter.

What’s the Difference?

As explained by the AAO, primary open-angle glaucoma occurs when your eye cannot drain natural fluids as well as it should; AAO likens it to a clogged drain. Naturally, because the fluid has nowhere to go, it builds up in the eye and places pressure on the optic nerve. This glaucoma can be dangerous if you don’t have your eyes examined regularly. The pressure not only builds up slowly over time, it’s also painless, which means you won’t suspect you have glaucoma.

Angle-closure glaucoma, or closed-angle or narrow-angle glaucoma as it’s also known by, occurs due to unusual eye physiology. In this case, your iris developed close to your eye’s drainage angle. When this happens, the iris can block drainage, which then increases the pressure against the optic nerve. This glaucoma is less common and more dangerous. The pressure can build up quickly and without warning, which can lead to permanent optic nerve damage and blindness.

What Are Glaucoma Symptoms

Because the fluid build-up occurs slowly in open-angle glaucoma, most patients don’t experience any symptoms until the disease has progressed significantly. Once that happens, people often notice blind spots in their peripheral vision. Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include sudden blurry vision, eye pain, headaches, nausea and vomiting, and rainbow-colored halos or rings around lights. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, get to the ER right away.

Who’s At Risk?

Anyone can get glaucoma. This is why you should be worried about it. Still, certain factors can increase the risk of contracting this harmful eye condition. For example, African-Americans 40 and older, anyone over the age of 60, and those with a history of glaucoma in their family are at higher risk of contracting this disease. Mexican-Americans over 60 have a higher risk of increase fluid pressure in their eyes than other ethnicities who have reached their Golden Years.

How Is it Diagnosed and Treated?

Doctors diagnose glaucoma through a series of tests, including an air puff test to gauge eye pressure and corneal thickness and eye dilation to view the optic nerve anatomy for abnormalities. If caught in time, many patients are prescribed eye drops that reduce the risk of further glaucoma development. In most cases, these eye drops must be administered morning and night, but the prescribed dosage depends on the stage of the disease. Lasers or eye surgery might also be necessary to drain fluid.

Should you be worried about glaucoma? Yes. You should also be worried about other harmful eye conditions, such as macular degeneration. Do not wait until your eyes bother you, whether that be compromised vision or other irritation. Schedule an annual eye exam with a trusted ophthalmologist or optometrist to ensure your eye health and vision are as they should be. Early detection is crucial to eye disease treatment, so make certain you add eye care to your wellness plan.

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