Glaucoma: The Sneak Thief of Sight

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness worldwide after cataracts. Because there are few noticeable symptoms in the early stages of the disease, it often goes undetected until sufferers experience significant vision loss, which is why many refer to it as the “silent thief of sight.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has designated January as Glaucoma Awareness Month to raise awareness for the chronic eye condition. A significant cause of preventable blindness, glaucoma is estimated to affect nearly three million people over the age of 40 in the United States; approximately 120,000 Americans are totally blind as a direct result of the disease. Current research has found no cure for glaucoma, but if detected and treated early, symptoms can be improved or stabilized. For this reason, regular eye exams are vital in early detection of glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases caused by damage to the optic nerve, causing vision loss, and if left untreated, blindness. The role of the optic nerve is to carry images to the brain. The optic nerve is damaged when there is high eye pressure, called intraocular pressure. Intraocular pressure is the fluid pressure inside the eye. Some forms of glaucoma increase intraocular pressure, which places additional pressure on the optic nerve, ultimately damaging it. Some people experience optic nerve damage and vision loss without an increase in intraocular pressure. Vision loss begins in the peripheries, then spreads towards the center of your field of vision. In the most common form of glaucoma, there are virtually no symptoms, and as much as 40 percent of your vision can be lost before it becomes noticeable.

Open Angle glaucoma is the most common form, in which pressure builds up slowly behind the eye, gradually damaging the optic nerve. This causes slow, almost imperceptible vision loss, but if left untreated, can lead to total blindness. Alternatively, Acute Angle-Closure glaucoma is caused by a sudden hindrance to the normal movement of the fluid between the eye lens and the iris. This may cause severe headaches, pain and blurred vision. Immediate treatment is required, otherwise there’s a possibility of complete loss of sight. Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, but medication or surgery can slow down or prevent further vision damage.

Glaucoma is more common in people of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent, as well as individuals over the age of 40. Siblings of people with glaucoma have also been shown to have a significantly increased risk. Early detection is vital; the best preventative measure against glaucoma is to have regular comprehensive eye exams. It is important to spread the word about the prominence of this disease, and remind people of the importance of getting regular eye exams to maintain overall eye health.

There are several types of glaucoma, all of which damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a complex network of millions of nerve fibers that transmit images to the brain. It cannot regenerate when damaged, which is why early treatment and prevention is so important.

Patients Should Get Tested for Glaucoma Annually

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for glaucoma. Medication and surgery can slow vision loss and deter further damage. Regular, yearly eye examinations are incredibly important as early detection can stop the disease from progressing.

Testing for glaucoma is simple. During a normal eye examination, your optometrist or ophthalmologist may administer a small puff of air in each eye to measure the pressure within your eyes. This is called tonometry. Those at risk of glaucoma may undergo other testing to measure the optic nerve, the complete field of vision and the thickness of the cornea. Many of these tests are common during a comprehensive annual eye examination. In fact, our office always includes a glaucoma test when examining potential LASIK patients.

In the US, glaucoma accounts for 9-12% of all cases of blindness. Worldwide, over 60 million people have glaucoma. Early detection and treatment is vital to preventing blindness. See clearly for a lifetime and schedule an eye exam today.

Are There Homeopathic Remedies for Glaucoma?

Many people are curious about whether or not homeopathic remedies work to treat and/or prevent glaucoma. While correlation does not equal causation, there are some studies that suggest the following unconventional methods for treating glaucoma:

  • Taking certain herbs and vitamins consistently.
  • Participating in activities that relax the body and free the mind of stress, like meditation.
  • Having a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly.

In addition to these practices, Dr. Ashraf also recommends having your eyes checked annually to properly diagnose and prevent eye diseases like glaucoma.