Can identifying the early signs of glaucoma provide patients with a better outcome? If glaucoma goes untreated, it can eventually result in complete vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness on a global scale. Over 3 million Americans suffer from the condition, but many do not obtain an official diagnosis until the disease is in an advanced stage. Learn about the early signs of glaucoma and healthy choices you can make to maintain vision throughout your life, to the best of your ability.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease involving increased pressure and lack of blood flow to the optic nerve, which causes irreversible eye damage and vision loss. The disease has two main categories: open angle and angle closure.
Open-angle glaucoma is the more common version of the disease. The drainage angle of the eye is blocked, leading to a buildup of pressure which compresses and limits optic nerve blood flow. Nerve damage in this region causes blind spots in vision, eventually resulting in blindness if left untreated. This type of the condition does not pain the patient, so it is usually not recognized as a serious condition until permanent blind spots have already appeared.
Angle-closure glaucoma is an acute version of the condition, but much rarer than the open-angle diagnosis. Instead of a gradual buildup of pressure over time, the drainage angle of the eye is completely closed off suddenly, leading to a swift pressure buildup, causing severe pain, nausea and vomiting in the patient. This acute form of glaucoma must be treated immediately before complete blindness results.
Risk Factors for Development
Certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of developing the condition. African-Americans over age 40 and those with a Mexican heritage have an increased chance of open-angle glaucoma development. Individuals of Asian descent are more likely to develop acute angle-closure glaucoma.
While researchers have not yet clearly established the exact reasons for glaucoma development, it is clear a genetic link may be involved. You are more likely to develop glaucoma if it was present in your family’s medical history. Other health issues also may contribute to an increased risk of diagnosis, including high blood pressure, diabetes, hypothyroidism and heart disease, along with any other unusual eye conditions, including retinal detachment or general inflammation.
Early Signs of Glaucoma
No matter if individuals present one or more of the risk factors, regular eye exams are the safeguard against devastating vision damage due to undiagnosed glaucoma. Those under age 40 should get an eye exam every two to four years. From the age of 40 to 54, eye exams should be conducted every one to three years. Those ages 55 to 64 should be examined every one to two years, and once the age of 65 is reached, eye exams are recommended every six months.
At the regular exam, the eye doctor will look for the following signs of glaucoma:
- Any spots in your field of vision
- Iris color alteration
- Gradual decrease in focusing ability
- Eyes that are crusted or water excessively
- Any itching, burning or inflammation
- Perpetual squinting or blinking
Depending on the results gathered at the exam, the eye doctor can make personalized suggestions for an appropriate course of treatment in order to quickly and effectively manage the condition.
Remember, make overall body wellness a priority and schedule eye exams with your doctor at the appropriate intervals to maintain eye health throughout your life. Contact Salt Lake Eye Associates to find out more about how to identify the signs of glaucoma at the earliest possible stage.