Did you know that glaucoma can lead to you losing as much as 40% of your vision, without you even realising you had glaucoma? That’s why this condition is called the ‘sneak thief of sight’. What exactly is glaucoma, and how can you prevent it?

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is not one but a family of eye conditions – there are about 30 different types – that affect pressure within the eye and damage the optic nerve. This leads to pain and blurred vision. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide and the especially scary aspect of this condition is that you probably won’t notice any symptoms until it’s too late and your vision is already severely damaged. Permanent vision loss follows.

The most common types are open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma.

  • Open angle glaucoma

    This is the form that has earned the title ‘sneak thief of sight’ because it creeps up on you. You feel no pain or symptoms, but you gradually see less and less and eventually develop tunnel vision (when it feels like you are looking through a tunnel) and even blindness. Open angle glaucoma affects 90% of diagnosed patients.

  • glaucoma

    Children viewed by a person with tunnel vision.

  • Closed angle glaucoma

    The symptoms of closed angle (or angle-closure) glaucoma are easier to recognise: eye pain, blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, vision issues in low light, halos around light sources and red eyes. The outlook for untreated patients is also potential blindness.

How does glaucoma affect the eye?

Inside your eyes is a clear fluid called aqueous humor, which circulates through the eye, then exits through the anterior chamber angle and ultimately drains into the bloodstream. The fluid creates an internal pressure in the eye. In glaucoma sufferers, the flow of aqueous humor is obstructed, resulting in increased eye pressure and, eventually, optic nerve damage. In closed angle glaucoma, the eye’s drainage canals get blocked or covered over, like a sink with a blocked plughole. The eye pressure usually rises very quickly.

Are you likely to get glaucoma?

Although glaucoma is most common in adults over the age of 40, age is not the only criterion for the condition. Research shows that people are also at greater risk if they:

  • Are older than 60
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Are of African or Asian rather than Caucasian origin
  • Have diabetes
  • Are long-term users of steroids
  • Suffer with myopia (shortsightedness)
  • Have experienced a blunt injury that bruises the eye (these are generally sports-related), retinal detachment, eye tumours, eye inflammation or certain eye surgeries

How is glaucoma treated?

Glaucoma treatment aims to decrease pressure in the eye and prevent permanent damage to the optic nerve. Treatment varies according to the type of glaucoma you have. The patient is usually prescribed:

  • Eye drops to reduce intraocular pressure
  • Medication that either reduces the rate at which fluid in the eye is produced or increases the outflow of fluid from the eye
  • Laser treatment to open the drainage angle and reduce intraocular pressure
  • Surgery to create a new passage for fluid drainage. Surgery is usually reserved for cases that cannot be controlled by medication.

How to avoid glaucoma

It’s vital to detect the presence of glaucoma early to avoiding permanent loss of vision.

  • Visit your ophthalmologist every one or two years for an examination, especially if you’re older than 40.
  • You can also help prevent or at least reduce the effects of glaucoma on your vision by eating a healthy diet and wearing eye protection to prevent eye injury.

Natural remedies to help prevent glaucoma