Even though our eyesight tends to get worse as we get older, sometimes eye conditions are not just a normal part of aging and your eyesight can be preserved if they are caught early. Glaucoma is one such eye condition that can be treated at the Wichita Vision Institute in Wichita, KS, and along with regular eye examinations, it helps to know the first signs of this common condition to help combat it.
What Are the First Signs of Glaucoma?
It Depends on the Type
There are several types of this common eye condition, which is the cause of blindness in more than 3 million Americans each year, but the two most common types are open-angle and closed-angle. Unfortunately, there are no early warning signs of open-angle glaucoma, except for family history, which may or may not be a factor in the development of this condition. The only true way to detect the open-angle type early is to get regular eye examinations with a professional.
Unfortunately, if you wait to have your eyes examined until after you experience patchy vision, blind spots, or loss of peripheral vision, you have waited too long. Vision loss due to this condition is irreversible, so even once you’ve been diagnosed, you won’t be able to see as well as you did before the diagnosis. Fortunately, once you do receive the diagnosis, there are treatments available to slow the progression of the disease and prevent further vision loss.
Sufferers of the closed-angle variety will have some early signs because this type has a rapid onset when the aqueous humor fluid that normally circulates in the eye is suddenly blocked. This condition will cause severe pressure, pain, and loss of vision. However, before the blockage occurs, you may experience blurred vision, headaches, severe eye pain, nausea, vomiting, or halos around lights. Even though these symptoms could signal many conditions, get an eye exam in addition to other tests.
Signs of an Emergency
Since the signs of the closed-angle type of this disease are common to other medical conditions, it’s possible that you may ignore the symptoms and not realize you’re in danger of losing your vision. In a case like this, you may not realize you need emergency medical intervention until it’s too late. If you get a sudden, intense headache; sudden blurred vision; eye pain; eye irritation and redness; and nausea and vomiting, get to an emergency room right away.
This eye condition tends to be genetic, but that’s not the only risk factor for developing either the open-angle or closed-angle variety. Other risk factors include age, race and ethnicity, corticosteroid use, hypertension, diabetes, extreme myopia (nearsightedness), thin corneas, migraines, and eye trauma.
This is the number one risk factor that affects your odds of developing this eye disease. If a member of your immediate family has this condition, you are anywhere from four times to nine times more likely to also develop the disease. The open-angle type is considered more hereditary than the closed-angle type, so if your family has a history of this condition, it’s critical for you to get regular eye examinations to screen for it.
You have a much higher risk of getting this disease if you’re over the age of 60. In fact, once you reach that age, you become six times more likely to be diagnosed with this condition than if you are under age 60. If you haven’t been getting regular eye exams before now, it’s important to start by making an appointment as soon as possible.
Race and Ethnicity
People who are Asian, African-American, or Hispanic all have a higher risk of developing this eye condition than people of European descent. After cataracts, this disease is the second-leading reason for blindness in African-Americans, who are between six and eight times more likely to be diagnosed with this condition than other races. Hispanics and Asians are at greater risk of developing glaucoma even at a relatively young age (as early as age 40).
Some research studies have linked long-term corticosteroid use to an increased risk of developing this eye condition. This means if you used an inhaler to treat conditions like asthma, hay fever, and other allergies, you could have a higher risk of getting this disease. However, the risk seems to be highest for patients who require between 14 and 35 puffs of a corticosteroid to control their symptoms. These very high doses are only seen in extremely severe cases.
This eye condition is related to elevated eye pressure, which has long been thought to be exacerbated by high blood pressure, or hypertension. However, recent studies indicate that low blood pressure may also increase the risk of developing this disease. When the pressure in the eyes is high, and blood pressure is low, it prevents adequate blood flow in the eyes, which then starves the eyes of necessary oxygen and nutrients.
What this indicates is that it’s possible that treatments for high blood pressure may actually be the risk-elevating factor for this disease, and not high blood pressure itself. As such, if you’re being treated for hypertension, you should also have your eyes checked regularly to make sure your treatments aren’t interfering with the blood circulation in your eyes.
If you suffer from diabetes, your odds of also getting this eye disease as you age are doubled. The connection between diabetes and the open-angle type of this condition are not well understood, but the development of a rare third type of this disease, called neovascular glaucoma, is related to damaged blood vessels that are replaced with new, abnormal blood vessels that grow on the iris of the eye, cut off the flow of fluid, and increase eye pressure.
Extreme Myopia (Nearsightedness)
Individuals with extreme myopia or nearsightedness have an increased risk of developing this disease. While the reason for this elevated risk is not yet known, it is suspected it’s related to the fact that in nearsighted people, the optic nerve is more susceptible to damage when eye pressure is elevated. Therefore, if you are nearsighted, it’s important to continue to get regular eye exams to screen for the presence of this disease.
Patients with thin corneas are not necessarily at a higher risk of developing this eye disease, but are at a much higher risk of not getting a correct diagnosis. This is because high eye pressure can be masked by thin corneas, which can allow this eye disease to progress without detection. The only way to make sure your diagnosis is correct is to have your corneas’ thickness tested as well as your eye pressure, multiple times.
People who suffer from migraines may be at a higher risk of developing this eye disease because of the abnormal blood vessels that are associated with both conditions. Some studies have shown that the presence of migraines can increase the odds of developing this eye condition about 1.5 times, although other comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes may also be important factors to consider.
You can develop this eye disease immediately following an eye injury or years later. An injury to your eye may damage the drainage system of your eye, which allows for proper fluid flow. When this fluid is not allowed to flow properly, the pressure in your eye increases, which is the primary reason why this disease develops. Sports such as boxing, baseball, basketball, and football are the most common cause of eye trauma.
The onset of this disease is not 100% preventable, but there are certain actions you can take to lower your risk. The best thing you can do is get an eye exam every year so that if anything changes in your eyes’ condition, you can identify it quickly. This is especially important for the open-angle type of this disease, but it can also identify the potential development of the closed-angle variety before you suffer the unpleasant early warning signs.
Other actions you can take to reduce your chances of getting this disease include:
- Following a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Staying hydrated
- Exercising regularly to encourage good blood circulation
- Not smoking
- Regulating your caffeine intake
- Wearing eye protection whenever you’re participating in an activity that could lead to eye trauma.
- Wear sunglasses whenever your eyes are exposed to the sun.
To diagnose this condition, Dr. Patel will perform a variety of tests to determine if your eyes have sustained damage to the optic nerve. Measurements will be taken to assess the drainage angle of your eyes and to test your peripheral vision. Dr. Patel will also use tonometry to determine the intraocular pressure of your eyes. Once these tests are complete, they will be analyzed to determine if treatment for this eye disease is the appropriate course of action.
If you have been diagnosed with this eye condition, Dr. Patel will develop a treatment plan to slow the progress of the disease and prevent further vision loss. Remember that you won’t be able to reverse any loss that occurred prior to the diagnosis, so the earlier you have your eyes checked, the more vision we can preserve. A combination of oral medications, prescription eye drops, and surgical procedures may be recommended to treat this condition.
Continue to get regular eye exams according to Dr. Patel’s recommendations, and report any changes in vision immediately. Dr. Patel will also talk to you about the level of exercise you should be getting that is safe for your eye condition. You should also sleep with your head elevated so that it’s above your heart. This will keep the pressure in your eyes as low as possible, thereby slowing the progression of the disease.
You Likely Will Not Go Blind
While blindness from this eye disease is a possibility, it’s unlikely that you will go blind, especially if you get treatment. Only about 5% of patients with this eye condition are designated as legally blind as a result of this disease. However, it’s more likely that you will suffer from at least some vision loss, as 10% of patients are considered visually impaired due to this condition. Even with treatment, it’s possible you will still lose some vision over time.
If you believe you may be at high risk for developing this eye disease, the next step you should take is to schedule an eye exam with Dr. Patel. Until your eyes are properly examined and certain tests are performed, it’s not possible to tell if you need treatment or not. So, contact the Wichita Vision Institute in Wichita, KS to schedule your eye examination today.