Glaucoma, a Health Issue for Senior Citizens

Feb 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

As recently as 40 years ago, a diagnosis of glaucoma meant certain blindness.  Today, with the miracles of modern science, it is a treatable disease that assures the senior citizen who inherits it a full life of good eyesight.

But what is glaucoma?

It is a progressive disease in which the ocular pressure increases, sometimes to the extent that the optic nerve (that connects the eye to the brain) is damaged and sight is impaired or totally lost.  But some people develop glaucoma with low eye pressure, and those cases are more difficult to diagnose because there aren’t any symptoms until the visual field is already damaged.

There are two common types of glaucoma… open angle and closed angle.  Closed angle glaucoma occurs when the drainage area for the aqueous humor (fluid in the front part of the eye) is blocked.  Because the eye is a closed structure, the excess fluid cannot flow out of the eye if the angle is blocked. Fluid pressure within the eye will increase, pushing against the optic nerve and potentially causing damage. 

Open angle glaucomaoccurs when the drainage angles in the eye become less efficient; pressure builds gradually and sometimes without symptoms.  In this kind of glaucoma, damage to the optic nerve can occur so slowly that the patient is unaware her sight is becoming impaired.  This issue is the reason senior citizens are cautioned to have annual eye exams with a qualified ophthalmologist who will check the eye pressure and perform additional tests if intraocular pressure exceeds normal limits (20-22mmHg) . 

Acute closed angle glaucomaoccurs when intraocular pressure builds up suddenly.  Seniors are cautioned to contact their ophthalmologist immediately if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • blurred vision
  • severe eye pain;
  • headache;
  • rainbow-colored halos around lights;
  • nausea and vomiting

Some people are at higher risk for glaucoma and need to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist every 1-2 years.  Those at risk for glaucoma include senior citizens with the following characteristics or issues:

  • elevated eye pressure;
  • family history of glaucoma;
  • African ancestry;
  • nearsightedness;
  • past eye injuries;
  • diabetes 

The good news is that treatment is relatively simple for the majority of glaucoma victims.  Daily eye drops keeps the condition under good control for many patients, and the optic nerve remains undamaged. 

Some require laser surgery to create additional drainage for the aqueous humor.  Again treatment results are generally good for such glaucoma patients, and continued daily eye drops keep the condition under control. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology provides additional information for the many variations of the basic condition known as glaucoma.

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