Anyone who is experiencing blind spots in their field of vision may have a condition called glaucoma. Glaucoma is a condition resulting in progressive damage to the optic nerve due to high pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure). The optic nerve carries images from the retina, which is the specialized light sensing tissue, to the brain so we can see. In someone with glaucoma, eye pressure plays a role in damaging the delicate nerve fibers of the optic nerve. Once a significant number of nerve fibers have been damaged, blind spots develop limiting a person’s vision.
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
Smart 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· 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.
· Avoid excessive electronic device use
Many of us spend too much time looking at the tiny screen of our smartphones or our tablet, laptop and desktop computer screens. Studies have found that 30% of adults are spending more than nine hours a day using a digital device. There is little known risk for permanent vision damage but they can cause a lot of eyestrain and discomfort which for someone with glaucoma, does not help. To protect your eyesight do the following:
· When reading on a small screen, every 20 minutes look up at something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. This helps reduce eye strain which can lead to blurry vision and headaches
· Be sure to blink! When we stare at a screen we blink half as often as normal which is typically about 15 times a minute. This can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated.
· Reduce glare from your devices. Frequently dust screens and talk to your eye doctor about no-glare coating on glasses to soften the glare form harsh office lighting.
· Use a flat-panel LCD screen which is easier on your eyes and select a screen with the highest resolution possible.
· Avoid staring at a bright screen in dark lighting conditions such as checking messages on your cell phone in your bedroom.
David B. Samadi, MD, Urologic Oncology Expert and Robotic Surgeon located at 485 Madison Avenue on the 21st floor, New York, NY. Follow Dr. Samadi at www.samadimd.com, www.prostatecancer911.com, and www.roboticoncology.com.