Glaucoma and your eyes

The Lions Club of Grand Cayman is celebrating White Cane Week by keeping Caymanian Compass readers abreast of the latest in eye care information.

Glaucoma is an eye condition that develops when too much fluid pressure builds up inside of the eye. It tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.

The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.

Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from this increased pressure, it is important to see your ophthalmologist regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term visual loss occurs.

If you are older than 35 and if you have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with an ophthalmologist every one to two years. If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently.

Glaucoma usually occurs when intraocular pressure increases. If this channel becomes blocked, fluid builds up, causing glaucoma. The direct cause of this blockage is unknown, but doctors do know that it is most often inherited, meaning it is passed from parents to children.

There are two main types of glaucoma:

1. Open-angle glaucoma. Also called wide-angle glaucoma, this is the most common type of glaucoma. The structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye does not flow properly through the drain of the eye.

2. Angle-closure glaucoma. Also called acute or chronic angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma, this type of glaucoma is less common, but can cause a sudden buildup of pressure in the eye.

You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:

• Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, I or Scandinavian descent.

• Are over age 35.

• Have a family history of glaucoma.

• Have poor vision.

• Have diabetes.

• Take systemic corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone.

For most people, there are usually few or no symptoms of glaucoma. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease. Detecting glaucoma early is one reason you should have a complete exam with an eye specialist every one to two years. Occasionally, intraocular pressure can rise to severe levels. In these cases, sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision, or the appearance of halos around lights may occur.

Talk to your ophthalmologist to find out which glaucoma treatment is best for you. Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled.

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