Could you recognise the warning signs of glaucoma? A misunderstood condition, usually with no symptoms in its early stages, glaucoma is nicknamed ‘the silent thief of vision’ because it’s a leading cause of blindness if left untreated.
World Glaucoma Week aims to raise awareness of the importance of regular checks to detect the early onset of the condition. Read on to discover some practical steps to reduce your risk of developing glaucoma.
Glaucoma is an eye disease associated with damage to the optic nerve carrying images from your eye to your brain to be processed. This damage is usually caused by increased pressure in the fluid within your eyeball.
Your eye constantly produces and drains away fluid full of nutrients and oxygen. The pressure in your eyeball, known as intraocular pressure, depends on the balance between the production and drainage of this fluid. Anything obstructing its clearance can increase pressure.
There are two main types of glaucoma. Open angle glaucoma is the most common and develops slowly, with drainage of the fluid in the eye being gradually blocked. Over time it causes sight loss if left untreated, but most affected people have no symptoms until they notice a loss of peripheral vision, meaning they miss objects to the side, or their vision becomes foggy or cloudy.
Closed angle glaucoma comes on very quickly and is a medical emergency. Symptoms include severe eye pain, headaches and blurred vision, and it’s caused by a sudden blockage to the fluid outflow in the eye.
Although glaucoma can affect anyone at any age, risk increases as you become older. You’re more likely to develop glaucoma if one of your family has the condition, you’re very short-sighted or suffer from very high or low blood pressure, diabetes or poor thyroid function.
Regular eye checks testing your visual field and the pressure inside your eyeball can help by detecting glaucoma at an early stage. In the UK, you’re recommended to have an eye test every two years, or every year if you have a close family member with glaucoma.
Conventional treatment can’t reverse damage from glaucoma, but can influence the intraocular pressure and slow the progression of the disease. Treatments include eye drops, medications and sometimes surgery.
We don’t know exactly why fluid drainage from the eye is affected, nor why some people develop glaucoma when the pressure inside their eyes is normal. But new research suggests vision problems may be connected with damage to the mitochondria in the retinal cells processing visual information. Your mitochondria are structures producing energy so cells can function effectively. If they’re damaged, cells will lack the energy to repair themselves. Mitochondrial damage seems to be down to oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Increased pressure within the eye can reduce blood flow and oxygen delivery, further affecting mitochondrial function.
Recent fascinating research has discovered you have a microbiome – a personalised population of friendly bacteria – living on your eyes. Special immune cells secreted in tears interact with these bacteria. These findings suggest disruptions in the bacteria of the eye could lead to increased inflammation, encouraging the development of glaucoma when retinal cells are mistakenly attacked by the immune system.
Your eyes don’t operate on their own. Because you’re an interconnected being, looking after your whole-body health, including supporting your microbiome, managing inflammation and reducing oxidative stress will all be important for maximising your eye health over your lifetime.
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