7 Important Facts about Glaucoma

Glaucoma is the cause of one out of ten cases of total blindness in the United States, and it can affect people of all ages. Those over the age of 65, however, face the highest risk. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 75 percent of people who become legally blind because of the illness are seniors. Experts estimate that half the people with the illness are not diagnosed. Certain groups are more likely to be affected: African American, Hispanic and Asian individuals, people over the age of 60, and those with a family history.

Vision problems not only increase the danger of injuries caused by falls in the elderly, but they also interfere with self-care, confidence, and independence. Ordinary tasks like taking medications and maintaining an exercise routine or a healthy diet become more difficult, and social interactions diminish. In an Australian study consisting of elderly individuals taking glaucoma medications, as well as those who were not, doctors found that both groups were at risk of falling. The worse the vision scores, the higher the vulnerability to injury. The likelihood that seniors are also more apt to suffer from other illnesses that affect their mobility puts patients at even greater risk and emphasizes the importance of early intervention and proper treatment.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma includes several different types of conditions that progressively damage the optic nerve, resulting in loss of vision. The following are the most common among seniors: open-angle, low-tension or normal-tension, and angle closure. Rare forms include trauma-related and pigmentary glaucoma, a condition that occurs when pigment from the iris breaks off and clogs the meshwork in the eye.

Open-angle glaucoma is a painless disorder that damages peripheral vision. It occurs when the drainage canals in the eye become blocked over time, causing tunnel vision that may be unnoticed for several years. It often responds well to medication, if discovered and treated early in its development.

Normal or low-tension glaucoma occurs in individuals who have normal eye pressure. Although lowering the eye pressure sometimes slows the progression, it can get worse in spite of normal eye pressure. Unless specific risk factors, such as low blood pressure, can be identified, the treatment choices remain the same as for open-angle glaucoma.

Angle-closure, or narrow-angle, glaucoma is a disorder that develops suddenly when the iris is pulled forward, blocking the draining angle of the eye that allows fluids to flow out. Eye pressure rises quickly, causing symptoms like severe pain, nausea, redness of the eye, and blurred vision. Emergency treatment is required to prevent permanent damage to sight.