Glaucoma doesn’t have apparent symptoms until it causes enough permanent nerve damage to affect your vision. At Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center, we encourage all adults to schedule routine eye examinations, but exams are especially important if you have a high risk of developing glaucoma. Here’s what you should know about glaucoma and its risk factors.
What you should know about glaucoma
Untreated glaucoma causes vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve. There are several types of glaucoma, and the way the nerve becomes damaged differs with each one. But in the most common type — open-angle glaucoma — it develops due to increased pressure inside the eyes.
Open-angle glaucoma is responsible for more than 90% of all cases of glaucoma. In addition to high eye pressure, here’s another key characteristic of this type of glaucoma: It develops very slowly.
When you have open-angle glaucoma, your eye pressure gradually increases over the years. During this time, you don’t have any symptoms raising red flags to a potential problem. Instead, your eyes seem fine until the optic nerve suffers enough damage to affect your vision.
Here’s why you need to pay attention to risk factors
When you feel great, it’s tempting to ignore risk factors. You already have a lot to deal with in daily life, so why add one more worry to the list, right? Except that paying attention to glaucoma risk factors can save your vision. Here’s how:
Routine eye exams can offset high risk factors
You can’t change many of the top risk factors for glaucoma, but if you know you’re at risk, you can schedule routine eye exams. At each exam, we test your eye pressure and examine the inside of your eyes, where we can detect the earliest signs of glaucoma and prescribe treatment to help prevent the problem from getting worse.
Changing risk factors can prevent glaucoma
Some of the risk factors for glaucoma can be changed, or if they’re not changeable, you can manage them through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. As you proactively reduce your risk factors, you also lower your risk for glaucoma.
Proven risk factors for open-angle glaucoma
Fluids inside each eye create pressure that helps the eye hold its shape. As your eyes continuously produce new fluid, they drain old fluid through canals in the corners of your eyes, a process that maintains the optimal amount of fluid and pressure inside your eyes.
Open-angle glaucoma develops as the drainage canals slowly become clogged, gradually making the amount of fluid inside the eye — and the eye’s pressure — increase. The increasing pressure damages the optic nerve.
You’re most likely to have glaucoma if you have one or more of these top risk factors:
High eye pressure
High eye pressure is the result of:
- Eye injury
- Impaired fluid drainage
- Overproduction of fluid
- Long-term use of steroid medications
Several eye conditions can also lead to eye high pressure.
Family history of glaucoma
Open-angle glaucoma is hereditary. If someone in your immediate family has glaucoma, your risk of glaucoma is four to nine times higher compared to families without glaucoma.
Age 40 and older for African Americans
Glaucoma is six times higher in African Americans compared to the general population.
Age 60 and older for the general population
You’re six times more likely to develop glaucoma after the age of 60. Hispanic people may have a higher risk for open-angle glaucoma, while people of Asian descent may be at risk for angle-closure glaucoma, and those of Japanese descent have an increased risk for normal-tension glaucoma.
Potential risk factors for open-angle glaucoma
Beyond the proven risk factors, there are other possible issues that can increase your likelihood of glaucoma, such as:
- Thin cornea
- Severe nearsightedness
- Poor blood circulation
- High or low blood pressure
High blood pressure can cause a slight increase in eye pressure, but low blood pressure may be a more critical risk factor. Glaucoma is more likely to develop when there’s a difference between eye pressure and blood pressure.
Low blood pressure contributes to a pressure difference more than high blood pressure. Whether you naturally have low blood pressure, or it’s low due to antihypertensive medications, you may have a higher risk for glaucoma.
The best way to protect yourself from glaucoma is with routine eye exams beginning at the age of 40. We can recommend how often you may need a dilated eye exam based on the results of your initial comprehensive exam. To schedule an appointment, call us at Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center or use the online booking feature.