January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to learn more about treating this group of eye conditions.
About 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and it’s the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, often due to abnormally high pressure in the eye.
High eye pressure is caused by a buildup of fluid leaking inside your eye. When this fluid is overproduced or the drainage system is not functioning properly, the fluid cannot drain at its normal rate and eye pressure increases.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over 60. It can occur at any age, but is more common in older people. The effect is so gradual that you may not notice a change in vision until the condition is at an advanced stage. Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs.
Because you can’t recover from vision loss due to glaucoma, it’s important to have regular eye exams that measure your eye pressure. These tests can diagnose the disease in its early stages, when treatment can slow or prevent vision loss.
Glaucoma is treated by lowering eye pressure or intraocular pressure. Depending on your situation, your treatment options may include prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of these.
Lifestyle strategies to control ocular hypertension and promote eye health include:
• Have a healthy diet. Although a healthy diet will not prevent glaucoma from getting worse, several vitamins and nutrients are important for eye health, including zinc; the copper; selenium; and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.
• Exercise safely. Regular exercise can reduce eye pressure in open-angle glaucoma. Talk to your healthcare provider about an appropriate exercise program.
• Limit your caffeine intake. Drinking beverages that contain large amounts of caffeine can raise your eye pressure.
• Sip fluids frequently. Drink only moderate amounts of fluids at all times of the day. Drinking a liter or more of any liquid in a short time can temporarily increase eye pressure.
• Sleep with your head elevated. Using a wedge pillow that keeps your head slightly elevated at around 20 degrees has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure while you sleep.
• Take prescribed medications. Using your eye drops or other medications as prescribed can help you get the best possible result from your treatment. Be sure to use the drops exactly as prescribed. Otherwise, your optic nerve damage could get worse.