Conveniently matching our eye and vision theme this week, National Glaucoma Awareness Month is upon us. To help spread awareness about this degenerative disease, we’ll be discussing what it is and what we can do to fight back.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases responsible for vision loss by damaging the eye’s optic nerve. Because these diseases have little to no early warning signs or symptoms, it’s often very hard to diagnose glaucoma – about half of the projected amount of American’s with the disease don’t even know they have it. It ranks 2nd in the world for leading causes of blindness, right behind cataracts.
Since warning signs are few and far between, it’s important to recognize who is at risk of being diagnosed with the disease, and to schedule regular appointments with your eye doctor regardless if you fall into these categories – you’ll learn why later.
Who is at risk?
Age is by far the biggest factor when determining who is susceptible. If you’re over the age of 60 you have an increased risk, and it goes up every year from there on out. Also, certain ethnicities are at an increased risk. African-Americans, for example, are 6 to 8 times more likely to contract glaucoma than Caucasians; people of Asian descent see more cases as well. If you have a family history of relatives being diagnosed with glaucoma, the disease is likely to stay in your family and carry down from generation to generation. Health risks, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, all contribute to an increased risk.
What causes glaucoma and how do I test for it?
While we’re still unsure of what exactly causes it, glaucoma has been linked to a gradual increase in eye pressure year over year, and is a major flag for concern amongst people who experience it.
There are several tests eye specialists can perform to measure the pressure in the eye – these include visual acuity tests, dilated eye exams, tonometry, which uses an instrument called a tonometer to gauge pressure within the eye, and a pachymetry, which is a test to determine the thickness of your cornea. These all help to determine whether or not you have glaucoma and how severe your particular case is. Remember, symptoms are hard to identify up until the point that your vision beings to descend. While very severe cases usually have no course for action, if caught early enough, people in the very beginning stages of glaucoma can resort to a handful of treatments designed to halt the loss of vision.
The most common treatment plan is the least invasive one. Patients are usually prescribed a set of eye drops or pills, most of which are designed to lower eye pressure in some way or another. This can be encouraged either by forcing the eye to make less fluid overall, or they may cause the eye to drain more efficiently.
If eye drops or pills prove to be ineffective, surgery is required. A trabeculectomy may be performed, in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the eye allowing for proper drainage. It’s reported that this procedure has a 60 to 80 percent success rate, but is usually only viable if you haven’t had any other eye surgeries before.
How can I prevent glaucoma?
That’s the big question, and unfortunately, glaucoma prevention specific to the disease is far from being discovered. However, there are several good habits that address the problem more indirectly by changing things like diet.
Like with many diseases, prevention starts with a healthier lifestyle. Many of the causes associated with elevated eye pressure can actually be traced back to high insulin levels that come from diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. The easiest way to cut back on insulin intake is to remove these types of food from your diet:
To see how these relate to gluten intolerance, read our blog on the implications of modern dieting here. Dr. Willard’s Water has been used as an aid in fighting gluten intolerance by people who claim to have digestion problems over many years – we can help you too. Dr. Willard’s breaks down foods to their most basic particles, allowing the body to better absorb, transport, and digest vital nutrients and minerals.
Since obesity can affect eye pressure, another way to indirectly prevent glaucoma is by being active and exercising in a way that aims cut down on weight drastically while maintaining healthy cardiovascular systems to avoid blood pressure issues.
In addition to cutting back on certain types of food and exercising more regularly, changing your diet to favor brightly colored fruits and vegetables can have its own benefits. In Monday’s blog we discussed how certain vitamins and nutrients impact vision in a positive way – everything from oily fish to leafy greens and citrus fruits improve can improve our eyesight, even in old age, significantly. We also discuss techniques for resting sore, fatigued eyes as well as the widely adopted 20-20-20 rule. If you’re interested, you can read that post in its entirety here.
Irregular eye pressure is the biggest cause of glaucoma, but people who have perfectly normal eye pressure levels have been known to contract the disease too. This is why it’s of the utmost importance to schedule a visit with a certified eye specialist at least once a year, especially if you’re over the age of 60.