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How Do I Know If I Have Glaucoma?

Glaucoma does not have obvious symptoms so the best way to determine if you have glaucoma is by getting an eye exam. The biggest consequence of glaucoma is blindness so it is important to catch it early to prevent further problems. Regular eye exams are recommended―once you notice symptoms the damage is already pretty severe.

Some people think that glaucoma is a single eye condition, but it is actually a group of conditions. These conditions affect the optic nerve, which eventually leads to vision loss. There are a number of different types of glaucoma as well as causes.

Are there different glaucoma types?

There are four different glaucoma types. The Mayo Clinic reports that primary open-angle is the most common kind of glaucoma, and it is chronic. The other types of glaucoma include congenital, acute angle-closure, and secondary glaucoma.

What are the causes of glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the result of built-up pressure behind the eye. Your eye is protected with aqueous humor, which is a clear fluid. This fluid is made behind the iris―the part of your eye that is colored―and it leaves your eye through the chamber angle, which refers to the channels located in the front part of the eye.

Anytime that something blocks or slows the fluid’s departure out of your eye, there is built-up pressure in the eye. This is called IOP, or intraocular pressure. When the pressure is really high, damage occurs to your optic nerve. The optic nerve is the one that transports visual information to and from your brain. When it is damaged, your vision decreases and eventually disappears.

With open-angle glaucoma, the most widespread type, there is no known cause. African-Americans are at higher risk than other ethnicities, according to the National Library of Medicine. It is also genetic, so you should get checked regularly if your parents or grandparents have or had it.

While open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition that builds up over time, acute-closure glaucoma is more sudden. It can be caused by certain medications and drops that dilate your eyes, which immediately block the channels. Having acute glaucoma in one eye increases the risk in your other eye.

Secondary glaucoma is a result of other conditions. Other eye diseases can lead to it, as can systemic diseases. It can also be caused by drugs like corticosteroids, and trauma.

Congenital glaucoma is usually inherited and occurs in babies. The cause is abnormal eye development and is present immediately at birth.

What types of symptoms does glaucoma cause?

The different types of glaucoma produce different symptoms. With open-angle glaucoma, vision loss occurs very slowly over time so it is hardly noticeable. Once loss of vision occurs, the major damage has already been done. You may notice a slow progression of tunnel vision, which is a loss of peripheral vision.

Angle-closure is much more noticeable. Most cases have a sudden onset, with severe eye pain. Your vision becomes cloudy, you may notice halos when around lights, and your eye may be red. The eye will often feel swollen and some people experience vomiting and nausea.

Congenital glaucoma is often not noticed until the baby is a few months old. One eye may be red and there is an enlargement of the eye. There is often cloudiness in front of the affected eye, in addition to light sensitivity and tearing of the eye.

All types of glaucoma can eventually cause blindness if not taken care of in time.

How do you treat glaucoma?

Depending on the severity of your glaucoma, there are a variety of different treatments, as outlined by the Glaucoma Research Foundation. The goal with any treatment is to decrease the eye pressure. Medications, surgery, and alternative treatments may all be used.

Medications are used to prevent additional damage to your optic nerve and to reduce intraocular pressure. Eye drops may be used to help drain the aqueous fluid or to decrease the fluid amount that the eye needs to make itself. As with any medication, work with your healthcare provider to make sure that they don’t interfere with any other meds you are currently taking.

When glaucoma is severe, surgery is often recommended. Laser surgery is usually the first course to try and there are different kinds of surgery via laser. If the eye pressure isn’t lowered enough from medicines and laser surgery, then conventional surgery is the next step. Although the success rate for surgery is fairly high during the first year, the eye tends to revert back eventually and successive surgeries may be necessary.

Some alternative therapies may help with the management of glaucoma. Antioxidants show some hope but their help with vision loss is unknown. Some herbal therapies may be beneficial. Exercise has actually been shown to help decrease eye pressure as well as improve the supply of blood to the optic nerve.

Other things that have been shown to lower eye pressure include alcohol and marijuana. However, pressure is lowered for only a short period of time and there are side effects to both, so they are not recommended by health professionals.

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