Glaucoma is an eye condition that causes gradual vision loss due to irreversible damage to optic nerve, which is caused by increased intraocular pressure. Glaucoma if not treated will continue to damage optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain, and will lead to permanent loss of vision causing permanent blindness. According to WHO, glaucoma is the second leading cause of permanent blindness across the world after cataract. There is no permanent cure for glaucoma yet, but its progression can only be slowed with various treatment modalities. However, even with treatment about 10% patients still experience loss of vision from glaucoma.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure within the eye, which causes damage to optic nerve fibers that are highly susceptible to increased pressure. Glaucoma is also seen in individuals with normal intraocular pressure. People of all age groups are at risk for glaucoma from children to adults, but it is most commonly seen in individuals over 60 years of age, individuals who have family history of glaucoma, who have a history of steroid use, patients who already have other eye conditions such as myopia, hypermetropia and who suffer from diabetes. Glaucoma is also more common in African American ethnicity.
Types of Glaucoma
There are basically two types of glaucoma:
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. This is a chronic type of glaucoma and its frequency increases with age. This is caused by chronic fluid build-up within the eye due to gradual clogging of the drainage system. This type of glaucoma is asymptomatic and there is peripheral loss of vision, which is undetected in the early stages as there are no symptoms.
Angle-closure glaucoma is less common type of glaucoma. In this, there is difficulty in drainage of aqueous humor due to decreased angle between iris and cornea leading to increased intraocular pressure. This might also be related to other eye conditions such as cataract or hypermetropia.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
There are so many cases of glaucoma around the world as most of the time, the most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma is generally symptom less, but might present with peripheral vision loss that might not be detected or is ignored by the patient in the initial stages of the disease process. Patient only report it when significant vision is lost. When symptoms are present, mostly with angle closure glaucoma, they might include eye pain, headache, visual blurring, redness of the eye, and halos around lights, corneal haziness, nausea and vomiting and narrowed vision (tunnel vision).
What Percentage of Glaucoma Patients Have Resulting Blindness?
As there is no permanent cure for glaucoma and initial stages of glaucoma is usually symptom less, it is usually advised to visit an ophthalmologist/optometrist routinely for an eye exam if one is at a greater risk of glaucoma development or if one is over 40 years of age. In the US, it is estimated that 9 to 12% of patients are reportedly blind due to glaucoma. Blindness is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans and they are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired than Caucasians. There is greater probability of blindness from angle closure glaucoma than open angle glaucoma. Blindness due to glaucoma depends on the stage it is diagnosed, if diagnosed in the advanced stage there is more likelihood of worsening and the patient going blind. In addition, older patients are at a greater risk of going blind than younger patients. Patients who do not follow complete treatment plan for glaucoma are also most likely to develop blindness from glaucoma.
Therefore, it becomes imperative that people get regular eye checkups, are diagnosed in an early stage and when diagnosed follow the treatment plan so that blindness can be prevented by appropriate treatment. The probability of blindness due to glaucoma has nearly halved in the last couple of decades with the advances in diagnosis and treatment.
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