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How to Recognize and Treat Glaucoma

Glaucoma can be best characterized as the irreversible damage to the optic nerve caused by elevated intraocular pressure. This eye disorder happens to be the leading cause of blindness in the most countries of the westernized world. Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be easily controlled with prescription medications. Even today, a large number of patients with glaucoma do not realize they have it until the symptoms alert them to the problem while by that time serious, irreparable damage has already occurred.

Therefore, the key to preventing damage caused by glaucoma is its early detection. However, since there are hardly any early warning signs of increased intraocular pressure, regular screening is the only option to recognize it early enough. The typical signs of open-angle glaucoma are blurred vision, colored circles around lights and reduced peripheral vision. Signs of yet more serious condition called angle-closure glaucoma include redness and pain in and around the eye, halos around lights before vision blurs and severe nausea, vomiting, headache and blurred vision. The people at increased risk of glaucoma are those with a family history of the disease and those over 60 (or over 40 if you are black).

Both common forms of glaucoma, an open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma, are caused by a build-up of fluid inside the eye, resulting in increased pressure that damages the optic nerve:

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the more common form of the two, generally affecting both eyes. In open-angle glaucoma, fluid drains out of the eye less efficiently than it normally should, thus causing intraocular pressure to build up slowly. This form accounts for approximately 60-70% of glaucoma cases in the western world. Peripheral vision is usually the first to be lost. If open-angle glaucoma is identified in its early stage, lasting damage can be prevented with the help of medications. Medications used to treat open-angle glaucoma come in oral form or as eye drops, ointments, gels or inserts that you put in the corner of your eye. Their role is to reduce the amount of fluid produced in the eye and to help the eye drain the fluid. It needs to be mentioned here that any damage to the eye that occurred before the treatment started cannot be reversed and patients must continue with this treatment for the rest of their lives.

Like most other drugs, glaucoma medications also have their side effects. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience red eyes, blurred vision, stinging, headaches and changes in heartbeat, pulse or breathing with oral pills; or drowsiness, tingling of toes and fingers and loss of appetite with eye drops, ointments or gels. Glaucoma drugs work silently in the background to keep your eye pressure under control, therefore, always take the medications as prescribed by your doctor, even if they seemingly have no effect.

In advanced stages of the disease, glaucoma medications sometimes fail to control the intraocular pressure. For such cases, laser surgery may be needed to promote drainage or reduce production of fluid inside the eye. This procedure is typically painless and patients can resume their normal daily activities a day or two after the procedure.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma, also known as acute glaucoma, is the less common but more serious form of the disease, accounting for approximately 10% of all glaucoma cases in the western world. It can come on quickly because when muscles around the eye’s lens are pushed forward, the fluid that normally flows out of the eye is blocked and cannot drain out. As a result, intraocular pressure can rise to three times normal levels in a matter of hours, causing redness and pain in or around the eye as well as nausea, vomiting, headache and halos around lights before vision eventually blurs.

Without immediate medical intervention, angle-closure glaucoma may lead to blindness in as little as one to two days. Laser surgery must be performed within the first 24 hours in order to relieve the condition by cutting an opening through which fluid can drain. Eye drops are then used to control, but not cure, angle-closure glaucoma. Although this condition may only affect one eye, it is usually found in both.

Angle-closure glaucoma seems to be more common among Asians, farsighted individuals, women, older people and those with a family history of the disorder. Individuals predisposed to developing angle-closure glaucoma can prevent it from happening by undergoing the same laser surgery that is also used as emergency treatment.

Where to Find More Information and Advice:
Glaucoma Research Foundation
The Glaucoma Foundation
Glaucoma Association