As we age, the risk of developing glaucoma increases but there are also a number of viable treatment options available, provided you can recognize the symptoms and seek out medical assistance when necessary. Before making changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk of glaucoma, it is essential to understand the details of this condition, as well as the types, risks involved, and symptoms.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a very common condition that affects the eye and is one of the leading causes of blindness if left untreated. Essentially, increasing pressure on the optic nerve will begin to cause damage and compromise your vision. This pressure, called intraocular pressure makes it more difficult for the optic nerve to properly transmit messages to the brain.
This condition is commonly thought of as hereditary but it can affect anyone, particularly those people over 55 years of age. The condition can develop gradually, without any obvious symptoms or pain, making it difficult to diagnose. However, if glaucoma isn’t addressed, the problem will only get worse, eventually leading to a complete loss of vision. This condition is one of the main reasons why it is recommended that you see an eye doctor at least once a year, and more often if you think you are developing the symptoms of glaucoma.
Types of Glaucoma
There are two main types of glaucoma, as well as a number of more rare varieties, including primary open-angle, closed-angle, congenital and normal-tension glaucoma, as well as more detailed subcategories within the two main types.
Open-angle Glaucoma – This variety of glaucoma is the most common (representing more than 90% of all cases), and is characterized by the gradual clogging or blockage of the drainage channels in the eye. Unlike the second main variety of this condition, the angle between the iris and cornea is open normally. This type of glaucoma, also known as primary glaucoma, may take years or decades before the symptoms begin to manifest.
Closed-angle Glaucoma – This second type of glaucoma is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. It occurs when the drainage channels are blocked suddenly, resulting in a rapid rise in intraocular pressure, making it impossible to ignore. The speed at which this condition develops is due to the closed angle between the iris and cornea, making it much more difficult for any fluid to be redirected.
Congenital Glaucoma – An extremely rare condition that affects a prenatal infant, it is characterized by the improper formation or development of the drainage channels. If possible, this condition can be quickly remedied with microsurgery before further growth and development occur.
Normal-Tension Glaucoma – This is a mysterious variant in which the optic nerve begins to show damage, despite not being under pressure from the aqueous humor fluid. Experts have yet to explain the root cause of this condition, although the symptoms are similar to primary glaucoma.
Causes of Glaucoma
Glaucoma occurs due to the buildup of excess fluid in the front part of the eye. The fluid in our eyes should circulate regularly, similar to the blood circulating through our veins. This fluid is called the aqueous humor and fills the anterior and posterior chambers of the eye; its main purpose is to provide nutrients like amino acids to various parts of the eye, in addition to keeping the eye inflated. The intraocular pressure is maintained by this fluid, but if the fluid doesn’t exit the eye, that pressure can increase.
As the aqueous humor circulates, it leaves the eye through a mesh-like filter or screen. If this channel is blocked for any reason, the liquid will continue to build up, resulting in the symptoms of glaucoma. It is not clear why this channel becomes blocked in most people, but it is typically associated with age. Acute injuries to the eye, eye infections, and inflammation in the eye can also cause these channels to become blocked. Glaucoma also appears to run in families, so there is a genetic component to this channel becoming obstructed.
Most people suffer from glaucoma in both eyes, causing a general decrease in a person’s vision, not partial impairment. However, it is possible for only one eye to experience an acute cause, and thus only develop the condition there.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
The major symptoms of glaucoma include blind spots, blurred vision, redness in the eye, headaches, nausea and pain in the forehead, as well as rainbows or halos around objects. Depending on the type of glaucoma from which you are suffering, these symptoms may be constant or temporary, occurring in “attacks”.
In open-angle glaucoma, symptoms may not appear until the damage has already been done to the optic nerve. The condition will begin with sporadic blind spots in the peripheral vision, which may not be immediately apparent. However, the spots will continue to spread and worsen, and the loss of vision can come quickly after these spots develop.
In closed-angle glaucoma, the symptoms are not constant but instead happen very rapidly following a sudden rise in intraocular pressure. At the beginning of an “attack”, you may experience a painful headache, in addition to blurred vision and halos around lights or other objects. The discomfort will increase rapidly and can cause severe pain in the forehead and eyes, nausea, and vomiting. If you experience these symptoms, see your ophthalmologist immediately, as this is generally considered a medical emergency.
Treatments for Glaucoma
Fortunately, there are some formal treatments for glaucoma, including laser therapy, various types of eye drops, oral medications and other minimally invasive procedures.
One of the easiest solutions for this condition is laser therapy, in which a low-level laser is used to open the blocked draining canals in the eye, allowing fluid to pass normally. This treatment is typically for people with primary glaucoma.
There are many different eye drops that can be prescribed for this condition, including beta blockers, prostaglandins, and miotic agents. Depending on the type you choose, these drops are able to increase the outflow of fluid from your eye to reduce pressure or slow down the production of fluid in the eye, both of which can help minimize symptoms. Unfortunately, some people dislike using prescription eye drops due to the various side effects, ranging from inflammation and light sensitivity to blood pressure fluctuations and dry mouth.
Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors come in eye drop form, but can also be consumed as an oral tablet. This medication will help reduce the production of aqueous humor fluid in the eye, which can lower the pressure. Tingling in the extremities and a metallic taste in the mouth are the common side effects of using this medication.
Some minimally invasive procedures can be done to relieve the pressure of glaucoma, including inserting a small tube into your eye or removing a piece of the drainage canal tissue, allowing the intraocular pressure to be released.
Home Remedies for Glaucoma
Having even a minimally invasive procedure done on the eye is a frightening prospect for some people, so home remedies for glaucoma are quite popular, such as increasing carotenoid intake, along with the use of fennel, cayenne pepper, vitamin E, eyebright and Ginkgo biloba.
Carotenoids are specific antioxidants that have been directly linked to reducing oxidative stress in the eye. This can reduce the chances of developing glaucoma, and generally help improve the functioning and health of your ocular system. Carotenoids are found in high concentrations in foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy green vegetables, and tomatoes, among others.
Although the idea of putting pepper in your eye sounds unpleasant, when you adequately dilute cayenne pepper with water or in your eye drops, it can quickly reduce inflammation in the eye, which has been linked to a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
This herb has a number of active ingredients that can provide a major boost to your vision by reducing inflammation and increasing circulation. You can prepare a mild eye rub with fennel, or brew a cup of tea and consume once per day for best results.
Studies have linked the antioxidant effects of vitamin E to cleansing the lens of the eye as well, ensuring that there isn’t a buildup or any blockage that could impair vision. Vitamin E supplements are widely available or increase your dietary intake with foods like almonds, kale, mustard greens and other plant oils.
This ancient herb is able to detoxify the body, as well as the eyes, and increase circulation and oxygen delivery. If you are suffering from the symptoms of glaucoma, the increased nutrients and oxygen can help combat this condition and slow its progression.
As the name implies, this herb is specifically known for its impact on vision. If you want to improve vision, the different concoctions with this herb, ranging from oral supplements to eye drops, can quickly eliminate the symptoms and get your vision back to normal.