Have you ever experienced pressure in your eyes that, in turn, causes a severe headache and red eyes? Or experienced rainbow-coloured halos while looking at an object or feeling nauseous? These could be signs of glaucoma, the second most common cause of preventable blindness in the world. “It is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve of the eyes, a nerve that connects to the brain, enabling us to see. This may be related to increased pressure in the eye known as intraocular pressure,” said Dr Neha Chaturvedi, consultant ophthalmologist, ASG Eye Hospital Private Limited, Bhopal. Annually, March 12 is observed as World Glaucoma Day. Here’s what to know about the condition which is also called the ‘silent thief of sight’.
The experts added that prevalence of the disease increases with age and people over 40 years of age are more susceptible. “It is estimated that in India there are about 11 million glaucoma patients above the age of 40. While glaucoma is more common in older people, there are types pertaining to different age groups as well. The disease present in the new-born is called ‘congenital glaucoma,’ in young age (3-10 years) it is called ‘developmental glaucoma’, and ‘juvenile glaucoma’ is termed to the group falling between 10-40 years of age,” she continued.
Like various other diseases, even glaucoma can be hereditary. Trauma to the head or eye region, prolonged use of steroids in the form of eye drops or oral medication for an unsupervised period of time can also be the cause of this eye disease. There are generally no warning signs for glaucoma; it is a progressive condition causing gradual deterioration of vision. “Hence, it is also called the ‘silent thief of sight.’ As vision loss in glaucoma is irreversible, a routine screening examination from the ophthalmologist is a must for people with high risk factors. Routine screening includes examining the optic nerve structure, checking the eye pressure, and if needed then a few tests are suggested to evaluate the nerve. These include visual field testing, corneal thickness, and OCT scans of the optic nerve. These tests not only help to confirm the diagnosis of glaucoma, but also quantify the damage of the disease, and help in effective management,” she explained.
As anatomical structure of each eye is different, there are two primary types of glaucoma – open-angle glaucoma (OAG), having a slow and asymptomatic inception, and angle-closure glaucoma (ACG), which causes an acute rise in ocular pressure.
Although currently there is no cure available for glaucoma, the eye disorder can be managed by various therapies to prevent further loss of vision and field in the patient. There are various options available to lower the eye pressure to the desired level. In its early stages, the disease can be controlled by prescribing an eye drop to use on a regular basis. However, for cases that do not respond to medical therapy, eye surgery is an option that helps slow down or stop the progression of the disease. Surgeries like standard filtering surgery with use of ologen implant, valve surgery, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), laser surgery are the various treatment options that can be explored with the doctor.
Treating glaucoma successfully is a team effort between a patient and a doctor. After prescribing a desired treatment, an ophthalmologist will set certain instructions that need to be followed consistently. “Regular screening, complete eye examinations annually or six monthly, maintaining a healthy body weight by eating a balanced diet rich in antioxidant foods, keeping diabetes under control, avoiding high intake of caffeine and smoking are some of the precautionary remedies to help fight the disorder. Additionally, one should also avoid head-down postures in certain forms of exercises and sudden sipping on large amounts of water that may cause a rise in the eye pressure,” she said.
Annual screening, regular check-up with the ophthalmologist, taking the prescribed medicine lifelong, are some of the ways to manage the eye disorder and prevent vision loss. Following these key things will help the patient to lead a healthy life. Moreover, awareness is the key to controlling glaucoma.