Glaucoma is a group of diseases where the pressure builds up and damages the eye’s optic nerve and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.
The optic nerve carries images from the eye to the brain and as the nerve deteriorates, blind spots can appear in the peripheral vision. Without treatment, glaucoma patients slowly lose their peripheral vision and possibly go blind.
This eye disease affects more than 3 million Americans.
Knowledge is Power
As a caregiver to your loved one, it is important to learn as much as you can about glaucoma, also called “the silent thief of sight,” so that you can possibly stave off its damaging effects. Being informed will help reduce anxiety and possibly alter the outcome of the diagnosis to be more positive.
Here is what is known about glaucoma, according to www.glaucoma.org:
- Glaucoma is a group of conditions where the nerve connecting the eye to the brain is deteriorated or damaged, usually due to high eye pressure. The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma. This type often has no symptoms other than slow vision loss. Angle-closure glaucoma is rare. This type is considered a medical emergency. The symptoms include eye pain accompanied by nausea and sudden visual disturbance.
- Most types of glaucoma are hereditary
- Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 60
- Open-angle glaucoma does not present with symptoms
- Some vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost
- An estimated 3 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it
- Glaucoma is a chronic disease and must be managed and monitored for life
Research tells us that everyone is at risk of glaucoma. The disease affects every age group with a higher concentration among Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. It is also known that people who are severely near-sighted and diabetic are also among the high-risk group. But if caught early and properly managed, this disease may not cause blindness because treatment can slow the progression of the disease.
Symptoms of the different types of glaucoma include:
- Patchy blind spots in your side (peripheral) or central vision, frequently in both eyes
- Tunnel vision in the advanced stages
- Severe headache
- Eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Halos around lights
- Eye redness
Treatment and Management
Regular eye exams with dilation are essential to maintaining good eye health and detecting diseases such as glaucoma. Family history is also important, as more frequent exams may be necessary if glaucoma runs in the family.
Glaucoma treatments include:
Eyedrops/Medication: Prescription eye drops decrease fluids and increase drainage to alleviate eye pressure. There are many types of eyedrop medications that can be used for this condition. Because glaucoma is a lifelong condition, you may need to use daily eye drops for life.
Laser treatment: Your eye doctor uses a laser (strong beam of light) to help improve fluid drainage from your eye. While the laser can complement the use of eye drops, it may not replace it completely. The results from laser treatments vary but can last up to five years. Some laser treatments can also be repeated.
Surgery: Surgery is another way to help reduce eye pressure. It is more invasive but can also achieve better eye pressure control faster than drops or laser. Surgery can help slow down vision loss, but it can’t restore lost vision or cure glaucoma. There are many types of surgeries for glaucoma, and depending on the specific type and severity, your eye doctor may choose one over another.
Signs of glaucoma
Loss of peripheral or side vision is usually one of the first sign of glaucoma. If you or your loved one is experiencing this type of vision loss, be sure to contact an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Other signs to be aware of include:
- Seeing halos around lights: If you see rainbow-colored circles around lights or are unusually sensitive to light, it could be a sign of glaucoma.
- Vision loss: Especially if it happens suddenly.
What you can do as your loved one’s caregiver
A few suggestions that can help provide safety for your loved one with glaucoma:
- Mark steps and slopes
- Improve lighting
- Remove clutter
- Use large print on important items
- Use technology such as smartphones, tablets, text-to-speech apps
- Provide low-vision aides which are devices that aid people with poor vision. Examples include hand-held magnifiers, strong magnifying reading glasses, loupes, and small telescopes.)
- Create a support team that can include friends and family to help with visits to the doctor.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and a great time to schedule a dilated eye exam for your senior loved one. If caught on time, blindness can be avoided.