Glaucoma is a condition resulting in progressive damage to the optic nerve due to high pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure). In time, glaucoma can lead to loss of peripheral or side vision and eventually total loss of vision or blindness. In fact in the United States, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. It is considered the second leading cause of blindness worldwide affecting up to 2% of the population.
Causes of glaucoma
Normally we have a clear fluid flowing in and out of the space in front of the eye that brings nutrients to nearby tissue. Glaucoma causes this fluid to pass too slowly or stops it altogether. When this occurs, fluid builds up causing pressure inside the eye damaging the optic nerve with possible vision loss.
Signs of glaucoma and who is at risk
Initially there may be no symptoms but as the disease progresses, peripheral vision can be lost followed by central vision. Other signs of glaucoma can be detected during an eye exam. The optometrist or ophthalmologist can test the pressure inside the eye and check for any abnormalities in the optic nerve. Sometimes a person may notice the following symptoms possibly indicating glaucoma:
· Red eyes
· Blurry vision
· Achiness in the brow
· Rainbow-colored halos around lights
If anyone notices or experiences any of the above symptoms, they should see their eye care specialist right away.
People who are most at risk for glaucoma include:
· Over the age of 60
· Family history
· African American descent
· Food sensitivities
· Sedentary lifestyle
· Certain drugs such as antihistamines or blood pressure medications
5 steps to reduce your risk
There are certain steps one can take to lower their chance of developing glaucoma. These are steps you have control over – the earlier and more frequent you practice them, the better likelihood of avoiding glaucoma.
1. Wear sunglasses when outdoors
Not just any sunglasses will do. They need to be 100% ultraviolet (UV) blocking sunglasses as it is UV light that is thought to contribute to damage to the eyes. Sunglasses may not protect the optic nerve from damage but glaucoma can cause your eyes to become sensitive to light and glare. By wearing sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat, both can help reduce the amount of light entering into your eyes.
2. Quit smoking
Smoking can be a significant factor for eye issues. Cigarette smoke contains a multitude of harmful chemicals such as benzene, arsenic, cadmium, cyanide, and well as nicotine which circulate throughout the body causing oxidative damage to the optic nerve.
It is best to stop smoking altogether but at least cut back on the number of cigarettes to reduce the poisons entering into your body.
3. Exercise regularly
There have been studies showing the benefits of regular exercise in slowing down the progression of glaucoma. It is known that in the short term exercise appears to reduce intraocular pressure, however not all exercise is considered safe for those with glaucoma. Any exercise involving a head-down or inverted position are likely to raise the pressure in the eye causing additional damage to the optic nerve. Consult with your eye care specialist on what types of exercises are appropriate for this disease.
4. Consume a healthy diet full of antioxidants
To combat the effects of free radicals and oxidative stress, eat a diet full of antioxidants. This would include foods rich in vitamin A, C, E and zinc. Foods containing these nutrients include carrots, apricots, papayas, all berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, eggs, peanuts, green leady vegetables, avocados, whole bran, and fish.
Reduce the amount of coffee consumed as it can raise intraocular pressure for up to 3 hours. Also drinking large amounts of fluid within a short time period can raise eye pressure.
5. Have regular eye exams
The best way to catch and determine if you may have glaucoma is to have yearly eye exams. Glaucoma progresses very slowly so most people do not notice any problems until they have peripheral vision loss. Many people will compensate and cope with the changes until they realize how bad their vison has gotten. When this happens, the optic nerve has already had extensive damage done to it and unfortunately there is no treatment to regain the sight you have lost.