Our eyes are incredible, complicated organs. Many different components need to work together for us to be able to see.
This means that when one of those components breaks down, it can cause big problems for eyesight. A component you might not think of is the pressure of the fluid inside the eye. Glaucoma is an eye disease in which high intraocular pressure damages the optic nerve and leads to permanent vision loss.
The Balance of Fluid Inside the Eye
Our eyes are filled with a fluid called aqueous humor in the front chambers (in front of the lens) and a more gelatinous fluid in the larger chamber behind the lens. A healthy eye is able to keep the pressure of these fluids within healthy ranges, with about the same amount of fluid draining out through the pupil as is produced. Glaucoma interrupts this drainage cycle and causes pressure to rise dangerously.
Open-Angle and Angle-Closure Glaucoma
The main types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure. Angle-closure glaucoma comes on quite suddenly when the iris physically blocks the drainage canals. It is usually heralded by multiple symptoms, including nausea, headaches, very blurred vision, rainbows around lights, and eye pain. If you experience symptoms like these, get straight to the eye doctor.
About 90 percent of glaucoma cases (about 2.7 million) are the open-angle variety. The way open-angle glaucoma happens is that the drainage canals in the eye get clogged, which prevents effective draining and leads to rising pressure. The process is extremely slow, so the patient might not detect the symptoms on their own until the disease has reached a late stage. This is one reason why regular comprehensive eye exams are so important. We can catch open-angle glaucoma early and begin treatment.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
We all have a certain level of risk of developing glaucoma, but some people are at a higher risk than others. People of Asian descent are at higher risk of developing angle-closure glaucoma. People over age 60, as well as African-Americans and Hispanics, are more at risk of developing open-angle glaucoma.
Heredity is one of the biggest risk factors. Studies have estimated that at least half of all glaucoma cases are familial. Specifically, someone with a sibling who’s been diagnosed is ten times more likely to develop glaucoma themselves. Eye injury and steroid use are also risk factors.
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
At this point in time, there is no cure for glaucoma and the vision loss that comes from it is irreversible. However, current treatments can halt the progress of the disease, especially if it is diagnosed early on. Protect your eyesight by learning about your risk factors and making sure you’re keeping up with your regular eye exam schedule.