January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, which is an opportunity to highlight a disease commonly called “the sneak thief of sight.” Glaucoma has earned this intimidating moniker for a good reason because most people who have the disease don’t realize it. Even worse, once the disease begins damaging your eyesight, it can never be recovered.
Currently, three million people in the United States have glaucoma. While the disease can strike at any age, the majority of people diagnosed with the disease are over 65. In fact, 75% of people who are legally blind due to glaucoma are seniors. Because the condition is so tied to age, experts expect to see a marked increase in glaucoma diagnoses as the Baby Boomer generation enters their retirement years. The advocacy organization Prevent Blindness projects the number will grow to 4.2 million by 2030 and 5.5 million by 2050. With this information in mind, it’s vital for seniors everywhere to raise their glaucoma awareness and understand their risk.
What is Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a word that describes a group of conditions affecting eye health. In many cases, these conditions impact the eye’s aqueous fluid, which causes a build-up of pressure within the eye that ultimately damages the optic nerve. Unfortunately, there are few symptoms associated with glaucoma, and the vision loss accompanying the disease is gradual. That means some patients could lose as much as 40% of their vision before they realize there’s a problem. To underscore this point, the Glaucoma Research Foundation estimates that only half of the three million people in the U.S. with the disease know they have it. The condition comes in several different forms:
- Primary Open Angle Glaucoma (POAG): The most common type of the disease, POAG, occurs as the result of blocked fluid canals within the eye. That fluid accumulation causes pressure to build within the eye, which damages the optic nerve. This form of the disease results in gradual vision loss with no accompanying symptoms.
- Angle Closure Glaucoma: Less common than POAG, this type of glaucoma occurs when aqueous fluid cannot drain because the drainage canal is blocked or too narrow. This condition can occur suddenly and causes symptoms such as eye pain, nausea, headaches, and blurred vision. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical help.
- Normal Tension Glaucoma: This form of the disease occurs without an associated increase of eye pressure. People with cardiovascular disease or of Japanese ancestry are at increased risk of developing this type of Glaucoma.
- Secondary Glaucomas: These form as complications of other conditions like eye trauma, cataracts, diabetes, eye surgery, or tumors.
What are the Risk Factors for Developing Glaucoma
While there are very few glaucoma symptoms to watch out for, certain risk factors may increase your chance of developing the condition. They include:
- High internal eye pressure.
- Being over age 60.
- Being black, Asian, or Hispanic.
- A family history of glaucoma
- Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sickle cell anemia.
- Corneas that are thin in the center.
- Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted.
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery.
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eye drops, for a long time.
If you fall into any of these risk factors, you should pay special attention to your eye health, especially as you age.
- Get Regular Eye Exams: This simple step can help detect glaucoma early before it has the chance to cause extensive vision damage.
- Understand You Family History: This condition tends to run in families. If you have a history of the disease in your family, you should have more frequent eye screenings.
- Exercise Regularly: Participating in regular exercise can help reduce eye pressure and prevent glaucoma.
- Protect Your Eyes: Eye trauma is a common cause of glaucoma. If you’re operating power tools or playing certain sports, it’s essential to wear appropriate eye protection.
What are the Available Glaucoma Treatments?
While there is no cure for glaucoma, or treatments to restore lost vision, doctors do have options to help limit vision loss. They include:
- Prescription Eye Drops: These eye drops help reduce aqueous fluid and ease associated eye pressure.
- Oral Medications: If eye drops don’t do the trick, your doctor may also prescribe an oral medication to help reduce eye pressure.
- Laser Therapy: Here, doctors use a laser to clear obstructions in your eye’s drainage canals.
- Surgeries: Doctors can also turn to several different surgical options to reduce eye pressure.
Living with the Condition
Those diagnosed with glaucoma face a lifetime of therapies, doctor appointments, and the genuine possibility of steadily diminishing eyesight. Under these circumstances, living a healthy lifestyle helps. That includes getting plenty of exercise, eating a low-fat diet, taking prescribed medication regularly, and visiting your doctor. Of course, the best option is to detect glaucoma as early as possible to slow vision loss as much as possible. Understanding the disease and knowing your risk will help you to always be on guard against “the sneak thief of sight.”
About Generations Home Care
Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.
We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.
Our Specialty Services Include:
- Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
- Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
- Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
- Veteran’s connection to care program.
- Live-in services and couples care.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.