What Causes Glaucoma, and How Is It Treated?
Eye care is important to senior health. By age 65, one-third of Americans have impaired vision caused by eye disease like glaucoma. Most people are unaware of the problem because there are no early symptoms, or they assume that poor vision is simply part of aging. By understanding what causes glaucoma and how to treat it, seniors can save their vision.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is caused by optic nerve damage from an eye injury, diabetes, circulation problems or other conditions. As the optic nerve deteriorates, blind spots develop in the visual field. For unclear reasons, the damage is related to eye fluid pressure.
Eye fluid normally flows through a mesh-like channel of eye tissue. If the channel becomes blocked, the fluid can’t circulate properly in front of the eye. The fluid buildup causes elevated pressure which leads to glaucoma.
Nothing can reverse impaired vision caused by glaucoma. However, treatment and regular eye care can slow the disease and prevent vision loss. The primary treatment goal is to lower eye pressure. Depending on the situation, glaucoma is treated with eye drops, laser therapy or surgery.
Treatment usually starts with prescription eye drops. Some medicated drops decrease the amount of fluid the eye makes, and others improve how the eye fluid drains. If eye drops alone can’t lower the pressure, they are often supplemented with oral medication.
Prescription eye drops and oral medications can cause unwanted effects in addition to their needed effects. Possible side effects include red eyes or itchy eyes, changes in eyelash or eyelid color, blurred vision, blood pressure changes, upset stomach and frequent urination.
Like eye drops and medications, laser therapy is intended to improve fluid drainage and lower eye pressure. The procedure uses a laser beam to open blocked channels in the eye tissue. The full effect of laser therapy can take several weeks.
Filtering surgery creates an opening in the eye to remove some of the mesh-like tissue. Electrocautery is a less invasive procedure to remove tissue from this meshwork. Drainage tubes involve surgery to install a small tube in the eye.
Surgical treatments are safe for most seniors, but they can cause other problems. Possible complications include pain, inflammation, infection, bleeding and additional eye pressure changes. Surgery can also speed the development of cataracts or cause additional vision loss.
Can Glaucoma Be Prevented?
Glaucoma is not always preventable, but regular eye care can stop the disease before too much damage occurs. Doctors recommend comprehensive eye exams every 2 years after age 65. Eye protection can prevent injuries that can lead to glaucoma, and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can also promote eye health.