Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve and is usually caused by an elevated pressure in the eye, which is also known as intraocular pressure. Symptoms typically begin with loss of peripheral vision and often go unnoticed at first. Eventually, the disease impacts the central visual area. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness. In fact, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the world today. Fortunately, although the damage caused by glaucoma can’t be reversed, the disease can be treated.
Women are much more likely to develop glaucoma than men. This is especially true in women going through menopause, when intraocular pressure increases. Recent studies have also found an increased risk of glaucoma in women with type II diabetes and elderly women who smoke. There are other risk factors for the disease as well:
- People 40 and older
- Family history of glaucoma
- History of elevated intraocular pressure
- History of injury to the eye
- Black racial background
- History of cortisone (steroids) use
- Nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia)
The damage done to the eye by glaucoma can’t be reversed. But it is possible to control the disease and prevent any further loss of vision or optic nerve damage. Possible treatments from a glaucoma specialist can include use of eyedrops, laser procedures, or surgery.
- Eye drops: Use of medicated eyedrops several times a day help to reduce intraocular pressure.
- Laser surgery: There are three types of laser procedure used to treat glaucoma. The first type (trabeculoplasty) pulls open the drainage portion of the eye, allowing fluid to drain more efficiently. The second type (iridotomy) uses a laser to create a hole in the iris of the eye, allowing fluid to drain. The third type (cyclophotocoagulation) uses a laser on the middle layer of the eye, reducing the amount of fluid produced.
- Microsurgery: In microsurgery, the surgeon creates a channel in the eye to allow the fluid to drain, reducing pressure on the eye.
Because your vision can’t be restored once it’s lost to glaucoma, it’s important to be checked for the disease on a regular basis. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following checkup schedule for different categories of adults:
- Ages 20 to 29— Get checked at least once during this time period. If you’re black or have a family history of glaucoma, get checked every 3 to 5 years.
- Ages 30 to 39— Get checked at least twice during this time period. If you’re black or have a family history of glaucoma, get checked every 2 to 4 years.
- Ages 40 to 64— Get checked every 2 to 4 years.
- Age 65 and older— Get checked every 1 to 2 years.
It’s also important to avoid injury to the eye, since that can increase your risk for developing glaucoma. When it comes to prevention, early detection and treatment are the most effective ways to keep your eyes healthy.