Glaucoma is a silent thief of sight. It’s best to catch it before it is too late.
Imagine being asked to pick one sense organ you can’t live without. Most of us would pick our eyes…and, why not? Our eyesight makes the experience of living more beautiful (we get to see the beauty of the world, and our loved ones) and makes us able to relate our environment more. Such a wonderful organ that can affect our quality of life must be protected at all cost.
But many of us don’t take glaucoma seriously.
What is glaucoma?
Did you know that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide? (Cataracts takes first place). To make it even scarier, it does not show symptoms! If hypertension is the ‘silent killer’, glaucoma is the ‘silent thief of the eyes’. Interestingly, glaucoma is closely related to hypertension of the eyes.
Yes, there can be hypertension in the eyes. But instead of it being a case of ‘high blood pressure’, ocular hypertension results from ‘high fluid pressure’.
Your eyeballs have fluid inside of them. These fluids help to maintain the shape of the eyeballs, and they also provide nourishment for the cells inside the eyes. There are two types of fluid in the eye:
- Aqueous humor
- Vitreous humor
The aqueous humor is involved in eye hypertension aka raised intraocular pressure (IOP).
About Intraocular Pressure (IOP)
A certain amount of aqueous humor is normally secreted by a part of the eyes (ciliary body) to maintain eye health. It then drains through canals/channels out of the eyes. There must be a balance between the secretion and drainage of the fluid for IOP to be normal. If too much is secreted, or drainage is slowed down, there will be ocular hypertension.
When there is too much pressure within the eyeballs, the optic nerve which is located behind the eyes may get compressed and damaged, leading to a gradual loss of vision.
Apart from raised IOP, other issues within the eyes can damage the optic nerve and cause glaucoma. Therefore, a person can have normal pressure and yet have glaucoma (normal pressure glaucoma). This is why your doctor will check both your eye pressure and the condition of your optic nerve during a comprehensive eye assessment for the disease.
How to tell if I have glaucoma (signs and symptoms)
As mentioned earlier, glaucoma will typically not present with any symptom.
However, some people may notice that they can’t see objects unless placed directly in front of them (inability to see from the side). This is called loss of peripheral vision or tunnel vision; and by the time people notice this, the disease has already progressed. Overtime, there is a complete loss of central vision as well.
The vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible but the progression of the disease can be halted if it is diagnosed early.
This has only one meaning: Screening is the only way to catch glaucoma on time!
Note that there is a special type of glaucoma that will present with symptoms like eye pain and redness, excessive tearing, hazy cornea, headaches, etc. This type is called acute angle closure glaucoma where the drainage canal of the aqueous humor is suddenly blocked and IOP dramatically spikes. Acute angle closure glaucoma is a medical emergency.
How often should my eyes be checked for glaucoma?
The Canadian Ophthalmological Society recommends that people aged
- 40-49 years should be screened at least once every 3 years
- 50-59 years should be screened at least once every 2 years
- 60 years and above should be screened at least once every year.
Younger people below 40 years should have a thorough screening at least once every 10 years.
These recommendations are not absolute because you may require more frequent screening if you have a high risk of developing glaucoma.
Who is at risk of glaucoma?
- Every person aged 40 and above: The risk increases with age
- People of African descent
- Having a family member with glaucoma
- Being diabetic
- People who are short-sighted (myopia)
- Those with previous eye injury
- People with elevated intraocular pressure: Some people may have raised IOP yet their optic nerves would not be damaged. These people are ‘glaucoma suspects’ and many of them eventually develop full-blown glaucoma
- Having hypertension
- Certain children with genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome, Reiter’s syndrome, Peters syndrome, etc. This condition causes developmental glaucoma
A Word From HealthFacts
Glaucoma is a silent cause of blindness, be vigilant and protect your eyes through regular screening.
Also Read: Medicated Glasses? Do You Need Them?