Are You at Risk of Developing Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is the name of a group of eye disorders that affect the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a bundle of around one million nerve fibres that transmits signals from the eye to the brain. Any damage to optic nerve tissue results in a corresponding loss in vision. The most devastating thing about glaucoma is that it can cause serious visual damage, usually without any noticeable pain or other symptoms. Glaucoma can really be the silent thief of sight.

There is a type of fluid within the front section of our eyes called the aqueous humour. This fluid is produced and drained constantly. If there is an increase in production or a reduction in drainage of this fluid, a dangerous build up of pressure can occur.

Types of glaucoma

There are numerous forms of glaucoma, divided into primary and secondary glaucomas, each with unique traits. Primary glaucomas include:

  • Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma - The most common form of glaucoma in Australia is often caused by high pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve leading to loss of peripheral vision. 
  • Acute Angle Closure - When pressure in the eye builds up rapidly due to a blockage in the normal drainage mechanics of the eye the symptoms can often be sudden and severe. In addition to potential permanent vision damage if the problem is not surgically corrected (usually via laser eye surgery clearing the blockage and allowing for proper drainage), people with acute angle closure frequently suffer nausea, pain and blurred vision.
  • Primary Angle-Closure (PAC) and Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma (PACG) - When the lens of the eye grows over a lifetime it can narrow the drainage angle of the eye. In people that already have a narrow drainage angle due to genetic factors this increased narrowness can lead to optic nerve damage over time. PAC and PACG are more common in long-sighted people, women and the elderly.
  • Childhood Glaucoma - Also known as Juvenile Glaucoma, this rare form of glaucoma can exist at birth or develop later in childhood but is related to abnormalities in drainage. Childhood glaucoma usually requires surgery to correct or slow. 
  • Normal or Low Tension Glaucoma - While the majority of glaucomas are caused by high pressure in the eyes due to problems with drainage, around one third of cases of damage to the optic nerve occur in people with normal or low eye pressure.

What are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?

Although high eye pressure is present in the majority of glaucomas, it is not the sole cause but rather one of the risk factors that can lead to the condition. Depending on the type of glaucoma, risk factors can vary.

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma Risk Factors

  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Being 60 years of age or older if Caucasian or 40 years and older if you are of African descent
  • Diabetes
  • Eye surgery or injury
  • High blood pressure and migraines
  • High eye pressure
  • Increased cupping (the size of the opening in the eye through which the optic nerve connects is larger than usual)
  • Thin corneas
  • Use of corticosteroid medications including creams, eye drops, inhalers and pills
  • Very severe nearsightedness (high myopia)

Acute Angle Closure Risk Factors

  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Being 40 years or older
  • Being farsighted (hyperopia)
  • Being of East Asian descent 
  • Eye injury or eye surgery

Primary Angle-Closure (PAC) and Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma (PACG) Risk Factors

  • Being 40 years or over
  • Being a woman
  • Being farsighted (hyperopia)
  • Being of Asian descent

Normal Tension Glaucoma Risk Factors

  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Being of Japanese descent
  • Having Cardiovascular disease
  • Low eye pressure

The easiest and fastest way to find and book an appointment with an optometrist online is with MyHealth1st.

Minimising Glaucoma Risk

While there is no way to turn back the hands of time or change your genetic makeup, there are still a number of things you can do to minimise your risk of developing glaucoma. Lifestyle changes, exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way to limiting risks. Steps you can take to limit risk include:

  • Losing weight. Being overweight can lead to high blood pressure and increases your chance of diabetes. Keeping a healthy weight can help limit these risks
  • Maintain a normal blood pressure. This may require dietary changes, weight loss or medication 
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit caffeine intake. This doesn’t mean you have to give up coffee or tea, just keep consumption to moderate levels as excessive caffeine usage appears to increase eye pressure
  • Maintain a daily exercise routine. This routine exercise can be any form you wish, from a trip to the gym to a long walk or working in the yard
  • Limit exposure to sunlight by wearing sunglasses and a hat when outdoors
  • Have regular eye exams to monitor eye health and make sure any problem can be identified before it become serious
  • Eating a diet rich in eye health foods, much like the Macular Menu

There is no cure for glaucoma but there are a number of treatments that can slow or stall the progress of any vision deterioration. These treatments include medications, intraocular injections that relieve eye pressure, laser surgery and incisional surgery. The exact nature of the treatment varies between the style of glaucoma being treated as well as the severity of the symptoms.

The best treatment for glaucoma is prevention or early intervention, and the best way to go about that is to have regular eye exams. Seeing the same optometrist regularly allows them to get to know “what’s normal” for your eyes, and if and when there are any dangerous changes.

If you are worried about the risk of developing glaucoma, or simply need to get your eyes tested, schedule an appointment to see an optometrist . The fastest and easiest way to search for and book healthcare appointments online is with MyHealth1st.

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