Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve, which is like an electric cable made up of many separate wires that sends signals from the eye to the brain. There are usually no early symptoms of Glaucoma, and it progresses slowly. But if left untreated, Glaucoma can eventually cause blindness.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a result of the internal pressure of the eye being higher than normal because the eye can’t drain its internal fluid efficiently.
The main part of the eye is filled with a clear fluid that is constantly being produced. To maintain a consistent eye pressure, an equal amount of the fluid flows out of the eye through a tiny system called the drainage angle. If the drainage angle is blocked or restricted, the fluid can’t drain out of the eye quickly enough, and the internal pressure of the eye increases. This increased pressure causes damage to the optic nerve fibers.
Sometimes the drainage angle can become completely blocked, and eye pressure rises quickly. This is a medical emergency that needs to be treated immediately.
Children and even infants can develop a rare type of Glaucoma when the drainage system doesn’t develop correctly or completely in the uterus.
When another eye condition or disease causes Glaucoma, it’s known as Secondary Glaucoma. There are several possible causes of Secondary Glaucoma, including:
- A tumor in the eye
- An eye injury
- Use of steroid medications
- Abnormal formation of blood vessels
- Blockage of the drainage system
How Common Is Glaucoma?
Approximately three million Americans have Glaucoma. About half of them don’t even know that they have it. If you have any of the following risk factors, you should get checked:
- Over age 60
- A family history of Glaucoma
- African, Hispanic or Asian ancestry
- Farsighted or Nearsighted
- Elevated eye pressure
- Eye injury
- A thin central cornea
- Low blood pressure
- Diabetes or migraines
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
For any Glaucoma treatment, the main objective is to lower the internal pressure of the eye in an effort to reduce damage to the optic nerve. Which treatment is best depend on they type and severity of the Glaucoma, and sometimes how it is responding to treatment.
Medications that lower eye pressure, either by slowing production of the eye’s internal fluid or by improving the drainage, are the most common treatment. These are usually administered in the form of eyedrops which need to be taken every day.
There are also several surgical options when the Glaucoma (or the patient) doesn’t respond well to the medications. These surgeries lower eye pressure by improving the flow of fluid out of the eye.
Some people choose to use marijuana, because the active ingredient in marijuana has been proven to lower internal eye pressure for up to 4 hours. Unfortunately, this is too short a length of time. Effective Glaucoma treatment lasts 24 hours a day.
Since there are more effective treatments available, and the potential risks and side-effects of prolonged marijuana use outweigh the short-term benefits, marijuana is not a recommended treatment.
Can Glaucoma Cause Any Other Problems?
Some people experience side effects from the medications and surgery used to treat Glaucoma, but you need to balance the risks of side effects with the greater risk of losing vision if Glaucoma is left untreated.