January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month


January is Glaucoma Awareness Month

January is National Glaucoma Awareness month. A progressive, neurodegenerative disorder characterized by irreversible damage to the optic nerve, Glaucoma can be brought on due to a variety of factors – the most significant of which is an increase in eye pressure, also known as Intraocular Pressure (IOP).  Eyes produce and drain fluid known as Aqueous Humor, which maintains pressure stability in the eye, as well as provides nutrition. Pressure in the eye rises when the aqueous humor does not drain properly or too much fluid is produced. The optic nerve, which is located at the back of the eye and creates vision by connecting the retina to the brain, is then damaged by compression. Studies suggest that medical marijuana can help reduce the pressure that builds in the eye temporarily. In combination with traditional treatments, medical marijuana can be a useful tool in the management of this serious disease. 

Types of Glaucoma

There are two main types of Glaucoma, Open-Angle and Closed-Angle. Within these two main types are several subtypes of Glaucoma, each developing from different medical issues. The most common form of Glaucoma is chronic, Open-Angle. This type of Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of visual impairment  in the United States, as well as one of the leading causes of blindness in African Americans. In Open-Angle Glaucoma, the pressure in the eye builds slowly and the vision loss is more gradual. In Closed-Angle Glaucoma, the fluid drainage pathway is completely blocked and vision loss can happen suddenly. This requires immediate medical treatment in order to save the patient’s sight. 

Causes of Glaucoma

Scientists have not yet been able to determine a definitive cause for Glaucoma but leading risk factors include: 

  • Age – Glaucoma becomes more common as we age
  • Ethnicity – people of African, Caribbean or Asian descent are at a higher risk
  • Genetics – someone is more likely to develop Glaucoma if they have a parent or sibling with the condition.
  • Other medical conditions – such as near-sightedness, far-sightedness and diabetes can increase risk

Various conditions can also be contributing factors to increased intraocular pressure that results in Glaucoma. For example, heart conditions and high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk, as well as Diabetes, which can result in Neovascular Glaucoma – a condition where fragile blood vessels are produced and can easily leak, thereby increasing pressure in the eye. Poor drainage aqueous fluid caused by a blockage, physical injury, or infection can also lead to Glaucoma. Even some medications like steroids can increase intraocular pressure, leading to vision changes and permanent optic nerve damage. 

The Symptoms of Glaucoma

In the early stages, Glaucoma can go unnoticed, and does not usually cause any symptoms. It tends to develop slowly over many years and affects the edges of your vision (peripheral vision) first. For this reason, many people do not realize they have Glaucoma; oftentimes it is picked up during a routine eye test. Both eyes are usually affected, although it may be worse in one eye. If Glaucoma is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, including irreversible blindness. 

Symptoms of Glaucoma May Include: 

  • Loss in peripheral vision
  • Seeing rainbow circles when looking into bright light
  • Eye pain
  • Headache 
  • Blurred vision  
  • Red eye
  • Tenderness around the eyes 
  • Nausea and vomiting 

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