Glaucoma: The second leading cause of blindness globally.

It is a major problem, we’ve been concerned about this for some time and we are now working hard to address this important cause of blindness. It highlights the growing problem created by chronic eye diseases, including Diabetic Retinopathy and Age Related Macular Degeneration.

Dr Robert Beaglehole,
WHO’s Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion in Geneva.

Glaucoma is an eye disease that can damage your optical nerve. The nerve supplies visual information to your brain from your eyes. It’s usually caused by fluid building up in the front part of the eye, which increases the pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma can lead to loss of vision if it’s not diagnosed and treated early.

The disease can affect people of all ages but it’s mostly common in adults in their 70s and 80s. however, if caught early, you may be able to prevent additional vision loss. It’s advisable that people that are experiencing temporal visual loss to be undergoing annual vision test to prevent further visual problem.

Symptoms of glaucoma

One important thing to know is, glaucoma doesn’t usually cause any symptoms to begin with.

It tends to develop slowly over many years and affect the edges of the vision (peripheral vision) first. For this reason, many people don’t realise they have glaucoma, and its often only picked up during a routine eye test. That’s why it important to be undergoing yearly or periodical eye test.

If you do notice any symptoms, they may include blurred vision, or seeing rainbow-coloured circles around bright light, – Both eyes are usually affected, although it maybe worse in one eye.

In some occasional circumstances, glaucoma can develop suddenly and cause:

  1. Nausea and vomiting
  2. Tenderness around the eyes
  3. Seeing rings around lights
  4. A headache
  5. A red eye
  6. Intense eye pain
  7. Blurred vision

What causes glaucoma?

The back of your eye continuously makes a clear fluid called aqueous humor. As this fluid is made, it fills the front of your eyes. Then, it leaves your eye through channels in your cornea and iris. If these channels are blocked or partially obstructed, the natural pressure in your eyes, which is called intraocular pressure (IOP), may increase. As your IOP increases, your optic nerve may become damaged. As the damage progresses, you may begin losing sight in your eyes.

The cause of the increased pressure in your eye isn’t always known. Nonetheless, doctors believe one or more of these factors may play a role:

  1. Blocked or restricted drainage in your eye
  2. Dilating eye drops
  3. High or elevated blood pressure
  4. Medications, such as corticosteroids
  5. Poor or reduced blood flow in your optical nerve

When to seek medical advice?

 If you’re concern about your vision, visit an optician or a doctor. If you’ve glaucoma, early diagnosis and treatment can help stop your vision from getting worse. Without treatment, glaucoma can eventually lead to blindness.

If you develop symptoms of glaucoma suddenly, go to your nearest A&E or eye casualty unit. This a medical emergency that may require immediate treatment.

Types of glaucoma

 There are several types of glaucoma. The most common is called primary open angle glaucoma. This tend to develop slowly over many years. It’s caused by the drainage channels in the eye because gradually clogged overtime.

Open-Angle (Chronic) Glaucoma

Open-angle, or chronic, glaucoma has no signs or symptoms except gradual vision loss. This loss may be so slow that your vision can suffer irreparable damage before any other signs become apparent. According the National Eye Institute (NEI), this is the most common type of glaucoma.

Angle-Closure (Acute) Glaucoma

If the flow of your aqueous humor fluid is suddenly blocked, the rapid build-up of fluid may cause a severe, quick, and painful increase in pressure. Angle-closure glaucoma is an emergency. You should call your doctor immediately if you begin experiencing symptoms, such as severe pain, nausea, and blurred vision.

childhood glaucoma (congenital glaucoma)

It’s a rare type that occurs in very young children, caused by an abnormality of the eye. Children born with congenital glaucoma have a defect in the angle of their eye, which slows or prevents normal fluid drainage. Congenital glaucoma usually presents with symptoms, such as cloudy eyes, excessive tearing, or sensitivity to light. Congenital glaucoma can run in families.

Secondary Glaucoma

Secondary glaucoma is often a side effect of injury or another eye condition, such as cataracts or eye tumors. Medicines, such as corticosteroids, may also cause this type of glaucoma. Rarely, eye surgery can cause secondary glaucoma.

Normal Tension Glaucoma

In some cases, people without increased eye pressure develop damage to their optic nerve. The cause of this isn’t known. However, extreme sensitivity or a lack of blood flow to your optic nerve may be a factor in this type of glaucoma.

Who Is at Risk of Glaucoma?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. The risk factors for glaucoma include:

Age

People over 60 are at increased risk of glaucoma, warns the NEI, and the risk of glaucoma increases slightly with each year of age. If you’re African-American, your increase in risk begins at age 40.

Ethnicity

African-Americans or people of African descent are significantly more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians. People of Asian descent are at a higher risk of angle-closure glaucoma, and people of Japanese descent have a higher risk of developing low-tension glaucoma.

Eye Problems

Chronic eye inflammation and thin corneas can lead to increased pressure in your eyes. Physical injury or trauma to your eye, such as being hit in your eye, can also cause your eye pressure to increase.

Medical History

People with diabetes and those with high blood pressure and heart disease have an increased risk of developing glaucoma.

Family History

Some types of glaucoma may run in families. If your parent or grandparent had open-angle glaucoma, you’re at an increased risk of developing the condition.

Treatments for glaucoma

It’s not possible to reverse any loss of vision that occurred before glaucoma was diagnosed, but treatment can help stop your vision getting worse. The treatment recommended for you will depend on the type of glaucoma you have, but the options are:

  1. eye drops — to reduce the pressure in your eyes laser treatment — to open the blocked drainage tubes or reduce the production of fluid in your eyes
  2. surgery — to improve the drainage of fluid.

You’ll also probably need regular appointments to monitor your condition and check the treatment is working.

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