Anyone can develop Glaucoma, however the risk more than doubles if you are above 60. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the optic nerve due to the buildup of eye pressure and can lead to permanent blindness. According to various research, more than 3 million Americans, 75% of which are seniors, have glaucoma! Only about half of those seniors are aware of their eye condition. Glaucoma is particularly dangerous because it can reduce a person’s vision by up to 40% without them even noticing. It is often called the “sneaky thief of sight” (GRF).
Are there different types of Glaucoma?
Yes, there are three major forms of glaucoma in seniors which includes:
Open-Angle Glaucoma: This is the most common form and it makes up approximately 90% of all American senior Glaucoma cases. It happens when the drainage system of the eye gets clogged over time and it results in a slow degeneration of peripheral vision.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma: This results from the blockage of the eye’s drainage system by part of the iris and it leads to a rapid buildup of eye pressure.
Low-Tension or Normal-Tension Glaucoma: This form of Glaucoma occurs without a change in normal eye pressure. It is believed to be linked to having a highly sensitive optic nerve coupled with erratic eye blood circulation. One-fourth of people with Open-Angle Glaucoma also comes down with Low-Tension Glaucoma as their disease progresses.
Who is at risk for Glaucoma?
While many people develop Glaucoma over a lifetime, some factors increase one’s risk for the disease progression.
Being above 60 years increases one’s risk of developing the disease.
People of African-American or Hispanic-American ancestry have an increased risk of vision loss due to Glaucoma. African-Americans are four times more likely to lose their vision to Glaucoma than Caucasians.
The risk of developing Glaucoma increases nine-fold compared to average when parents or siblings have the disease.
People with heart diseases and diabetes are at a higher risk of having Glaucoma.
A thorough eye exam can reveal other risk factors such as abnormally high eye pressure, thin cornea and abnormal optic nerve arrangement.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The signs and symptoms of Glaucoma depend on the variant and the stage of the disease. Angle-Closure Glaucoma at its later stages have symptoms including severe pain and nausea, eye redness, and blurred and foggy vision. Medical attention should be sought immediately if you or your loved one have these symptoms as Angle-Closure Glaucoma can result in rapid and permanent vision loss within days.
For Open-Angle Glaucoma, most people show no early signs and symptoms and it can slowly cause vision loss with no accompanying warning signs. Advanced stage symptoms may include:
Development of blind spot or impaired side vision
Total permanent blindness
Other types of Glaucoma may have symptoms that include the inability to adjust to a darkened environment.
How is Glaucoma diagnosed?
Glaucoma can be detected in seniors through comprehensive vision exams including tonometry test to measure eye pressure, a visual field exam to measure full field of vision, visual acuity exams which consist of the common eye chart letter tests and dilated eye exams to examine the pupils and optic nerve. These tests can help determine if one has any of the major types of Glaucoma.
Additional tests such as perimetry and gonioscopy may be conducted if the optic nerve looks abnormal or the eye pressure is outside the normal range.
How can you prevent Glaucoma?
Early detection and treatment is the best preventive measure against Glaucoma-induced vision loss because its damage is irreversible, and the symptoms only begin to appear at the advanced stage. Encouraging a regular eye examination is the key to saving you or your loved ones’ eyesight. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a full annual eye exam after the age of 55. Some studies have shown that Omega-3 rich foods such as Tuna and Wild Salmon can help reduce eye pressure.
What are treatment options for Glaucoma?
There is currently no cure for Glaucoma and vision loss cannot be reversed. However, treatments can significantly slow the progression of the disease. Glaucoma is controlled using eye drops, oral medications, and surgery when necessary. In some cases of Glaucoma, medicated eye drops can reduce the risk of developing full-blown Glaucoma by half.
You must take medications as prescribed if the effects of Glaucoma are to be controlled. An elderly person may need help with their medication due to fine motor control issues or memory problems. In this case, a family member, or a trained professional caregiver can assist with the medication reminders.
Since Glaucoma is a serious disease, it’s important for seniors and their caregivers to take steps to monitor and treat the condition. Encourage seniors to attend regular eye exams to stave off the “sneaky thief of sight.”