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How Do I Know If I Have Glaucoma?

Author: Dr. Manjunath Natarajan - Eye Health  

Glaucoma is a prolonged deterioration of optic nerve function caused by various factors, one of which is the pressure of our eye. This article looks at the essential information you need to know to understand glaucoma, how to know whether you need to be checked for glaucoma, about its treatment and essential preventive measures.

What Is Glaucoma and Why Is It Important to Screen Asymptomatic People for Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a chronic progressive degenerative disease of the optic nerve. In a very broad sense, in glaucoma, the optic nerve undergoes a process of slow death due to its nerve fibers getting squeezed by the pressure of the eye. This nerve degeneration often goes unnoticed by patients as it is a painless and asymptomatic process.

The global burden of the disease is estimated to be 1 to 2 % of the world's population. In many countries, it is in vogue to screen everyone above 40 years of age for glaucoma. The screening process is more important for certain high-risk groups including people from certain races and also women, as they carry a higher risk of development of glaucoma.

The crux of the matter as pointed out is not only the absolute asymptomatic nature of glaucoma but also the fact that the nerve damage and hence the visual field loss is irreversible. This translates into visual impairment which could lead to an economic setback to the individual, their family, and the society in general. This makes the burden of the disease quite great in terms of years of productive life lost, a loss that could have easily been prevented or occasionally, avoided altogether.

Hence, it is important to screen for this disease in the normal population.

What Are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?

  1. Age above 40 years.
  2. A family history of glaucoma.
  3. Certain races/ancestry.
  4. Hypertension.
  5. High cholesterol.
  6. Smoking.
  7. Hypermetropia.

What Are Its Types?

There are two main types of glaucoma - open angle, and narrow-angle. In open-angle glaucoma, there are no symptoms and the disease follows the classical course of nerve damage over a long protracted time period.

In angle closure, however, the picture is different. The patient develops symptoms of pain, redness and blurred vision with the feeling of seeing haloes around light. The nerve damage process is accelerated, especially in acute attacks where the patient may lose his vision in a matter of hours.

What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

As mentioned earlier, most open-angle glaucomas are asymptomatic and would only be picked up on screening. Symptoms which can present here can be - a frequent change in their glass prescription and headaches which aggravate in dark environments.

Angle-closure glaucomas can present as red, watery, painful eyes. The patients have blurred vision with a symptom of seeing colored haloes around lights.

When Should You Get Tested?

You need to be tested for glaucomatous disease when you have any of the symptoms of glaucoma or any of the above-mentioned risk factors of glaucoma. In general, it is recommended that if you are above forty years of age, you should undergo glaucoma testing.

What Tests Are Available for Diagnosis of Glaucoma?

The major tests whose outcomes determine the progression of glaucoma and the treatment decisions are -

1. Intraocular pressure.

2. Optic nerve head morphology.

3. Visual field analysis.

The adjunctive tests having a corroboratory impact are -

1. Optical coherence tomography (OCT).

2. GDX/GDXVCC.

3. Corneal thickness/pachymetry.

4) HRT (Heidelberg retinal tomogram).

What Are the Treatment Options Available?

Glaucoma can be treated by a variety of options including eyedrops, lasers, and surgery. The treatment decision depends on the severity of the disease and a few patient factors.

Glaucoma is thus a progressive disease and a prompt visit to an ophthalmologist in case of symptoms or patients having risk factors can prevent irreversible nerve damage.

For more information consult a glaucoma specialist online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/eye-care-ophthalmologist/glaucoma

Image: How Do I Know If I Have Glaucoma? Last reviewed at: 07.Sep.2018

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