How to Know If You Have a Higher Risk of Glaucoma by Jordan Stanley, M.D.

July 30, 2019

Jordan Stanley, MD is an ophthalmologist, glaucoma specialist, and cataract surgeon at the Marietta Eye Clinic.

Glaucoma risk increases for all people age 40 and over and is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old. However, blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment. The most common type of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, affects more than 2 million individuals in the United States. With the rapid aging of the U.S. population, this number will increase to more than 3 million by 2020. Glaucoma affects certain ethnic populations even harder than others. In looking at causes of legal blindness, 5.2% of legal blindness in non-Hispanic whites is caused by glaucoma. However, in African American and Hispanic populations, these numbers rise to 18.8% and 10.5% respectively. Glaucoma is serious and your best medicine is to ensure your eyes are examined regularly by doctors at a medical practice focused on the eyes.

Do You Have a Higher Risk of Glaucoma?

There are several factors which indicate a higher risk of glaucoma than normal and if you have several of these factors in play then your risk of glaucoma is magnified. Glaucoma risk increases with age alone, so anyone over age 40 has an increased risk and should take preventative care very seriously. Additionally, your genetic background affects your risk directly. If you have family members with glaucoma, you also face a higher risk. Certain ethnicities also face a higher risk than normal and a higher risk than other ethnicities. If you are of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage, your risk is higher.

Glaucoma risk is also affected by structural aspects out of your control. If you have myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness), have corneas which are thinner in the center, or have thinning of the optic nerve, your risk is increased. Those who have had eye injuries, have high eye pressure, or use long-term steroid medications also face increased risk. You should ensure you let your ophthalmologist know of any eye injuries and all medications you take to ensure your eye doctor has all necessary diagnostic information as eye injuries and medications can also affect your risk.

Lastly, if you face certain health conditions, you should seek out care from an ophthalmologist to keep an eye on any glaucoma development or progression. Diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor circulation, and other health problems affecting the whole body increase glaucoma risk and mean you need to stay proactive about ensuring your eyes are healthy.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease which leads to damage to the optic nerve leading to blindness. Glaucoma typically occurs when fluid builds in the eye changing the pressure in your eye. This increased pressure actually damage the key optic nerve which sends signal to the brain determining the quality of your vision. Glaucoma comes in two major forms, primary open-angle and narrow angle glaucoma. In primary open angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma, happens gradually when the eye does not drain fluid properly. With narrow angle glaucoma, the iris is very close to the draining angle in your eye and can block the necessary drainage of fluid.

Keeping Your Vision Clear and Healthy

Catching the warning signs of glaucoma and proper diagnosis are key to avoid the vision loss inevitable with untreated glaucoma. A highly trained medical doctor specializing in the eye, an ophthalmologist, can help you avoid this debilitating damage. Additionally, many ophthalmologists seek out a glaucoma fellowship specializing further in diagnosing and treating glaucoma. The management of your glaucoma will often rest in the hands of one of these highly trained specialists.

Glaucoma is treated lowering the pressure in your eye, your intraocular pressure. Visual damage caused by glaucoma can’t be reversed; however, treatment and regular check-ups can help slow or prevent vision loss especially as you catch the disease in early stages. As you are blessed to increase the number of birthdays you celebrate, we in the eye care community strongly encourage you to seek routine care and the advice of specialists as your health situation dictates.

References and Additional Resources

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. They describe themselves as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.”  Their website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.

What is Glaucoma?

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-glaucoma

Who Is at Risk for Glaucoma?

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/glaucoma-risk

Glaucoma

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glaucoma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20372846

Prevalence of Open-Angle Glaucoma Among Adults in the United States

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/fullarticle/416231

US Eye Disease Statistics

https://www.aao.org/eye-disease-statistics

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