Glaucoma Awareness Month
What do you think of when you think of January? It’s the first month of the new year, a time where we make our New Year’s resolutions and look forward to a fresh start. However, did you know January is also Glaucoma Awareness Month?
What is glaucoma? It is an eye disease that affects the optic nerve. The optic nerve sits at the back of our eyes and helps make up our vision by sending images of what we see to our brain. Glaucoma is typically associated with increased pressure within the eyes, although not in all cases, and can lead to blindness if left undiagnosed or untreated. Glaucoma is not a rare condition by any means. In fact, it is actually one of the main causes of blindness worldwide.
There are certain risk factors associated with glaucoma. Medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and using certain medications such as steroids or over-the-counter allergy medications, are associated with glaucoma. Other risk factors include older age, nearsightedness or farsightedness, previous eye injuries or eye surgeries, and a family history of glaucoma. African-American, Asian, and Hispanic patients are also at higher risk for developing glaucoma.
There are several different types of glaucoma, but the two main types are open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. Angle-closure glaucoma is where the angle between your iris and lens block the fluid in your eye from draining through the drainage structure in your eyes called the trabecular meshwork. This ends up increasing the pressure in your eye. If the pressure builds up very fast, this is called acute angle-closure glaucoma, which is a medical emergency. Symptoms include a painful red eye, blurry vision, seeing “halos,” headaches, nausea and vomiting. You can develop blindness quickly if you do not seek emergent medical attention with acute angle-closure glaucoma. If the pressure develops gradually because of the angle between your iris and lens, then it is called chronic angle-closure glaucoma. People with chronic angle-closure glaucoma may not have any symptoms, but they can still end up with damage to their vision.
Open-angle glaucoma is another type of glaucoma and is the most common type. In this case, the iris and lens do not block the fluid in your eyes from reaching the trabecular meshwork. However, the fluid cannot drain normally at the trabecular meshwork, which in turn increases eye pressure over time. Many patients with open-angle glaucoma do not have symptoms, but they can also develop vision loss over time.
The good news is that in many cases eye damage from glaucoma can be slowed or prevented. Undergoing comprehensive eye examinations can detect glaucoma and can allow patients to start treatment before further damage to the optic nerve or vision can occur. If you do end up getting diagnosed with glaucoma, there are multiple treatment options, including prescription eye drops, pills, laser treatments and other types of eye surgeries. Be sure to ask your optometrist, ophthalmologist, or primary care physician about glaucoma screening and treatment!
Dr. Luc is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.