Glaucoma is a severe ocular condition caused by high pressure within the eye. The eye is a very complex system, but it is also very fragile. Glaucoma is one of many conditions that can lead to vision loss and blindness. Some forms of glaucoma are degenerative or irreversible conditions, while others can be treated by relieving pressure from the eye. Being diagnosed with glaucoma can be a frightening moment for patients. Therefore, it is important to understand not just how to treat it but also what causes it to develop. Here are some of the risk factors and causes of glaucoma.
Fluid Pressure in the Eye
The cause of glaucoma from a scientific point is increased fluid pressure within the eye that causes a disruption in normal function. This fluid usually flows out of the eye through a canal, but when the channel it uses becomes disrupted and blocked, it cannot leave. That leads to a backup of fluid within this canal. The buildup of fluid creates pressure inside of the eye and causes vision issues when it presses on the ocular nerve in the back of the eye. Since this nerve sends signals to the brain, this pressure disrupts the flow of those signals and causes vision loss.
Family History and Genetics
One of the most common causes of glaucoma is genetic predispositions to the condition. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you are more likely to develop it yourself. This is particularly the case if your parents had glaucoma, as it is an inherited condition. There are many different varieties of the disorder. Some are more likely to pass through genetic inheritance than others. If someone in your immediate family has this condition, you should tell your optometrist. They will likely want to incorporate glaucoma tests in your annual eye exams.
Blunt or Penetrating Eye Injuries
Another common reason for glaucoma is a blunt or penetrating eye injury. This may include head trauma that occurs near the eye, puncture wounds or scratches or other forms of injury. If you have had one of these injuries in the past, you are at a higher risk for developing glaucoma and other vision disorders later in life. This is true even if you do not have any symptoms at the time. However, traumatic glaucoma can also occur immediately at the time of the injury. An eye doctor can treat traumatic glaucoma. However, you may be more susceptible to glaucoma and other eye issues later.
Chemical Eye Injuries
Chemical eye injuries are very serious emergencies that necessitate quick medical treatment. They can also cause glaucoma in the long term. These injuries occur when a chemical or other substance is splashed in the eye, typically causing severe and immediate damage. Acid or alkali substances cause most of these injuries. These substances are in everyday items like car batteries, household cleaners, and fertilizer. These chemicals can cause severe burns, which lead to scarring that can block the channel that the eye’s fluid flows. Wearing protective glasses can reduce your chances of experiencing a chemical burn that may cause glaucoma later on in life.
Surgery can cause a type of glaucoma referred to as secondary glaucoma. That is because it happens after a surgery that aims to treat another eye disorder, like cataracts. Similar to an eye injury, surgery can cause scarring and disrupt the flow of fluid within the eye. It can be very disheartening to develop glaucoma after surgery to correct another disorder. Unlike cataracts, there is nothing that can be done to completely reverse glaucoma. Luckily, it is relatively rare for this disorder to develop after cataracts or other eye surgeries, and most people do not experience this complication.
Individuals who have thin corneas are at a higher risk of allowing their glaucoma to go untreated. This risk is because thin corneas often produce artificially low test readings regarding pressure. When an optometrist checks the intraocular pressure in the eyes, he or she is likely to get a low reading regardless of what the pressure is. This can be very dangerous, as pressure continues to build within the eye and glaucoma develops. A good optometrist will make adjustments for this and will know to check the thickness of your cornea before interpreting your results.
Being Over Age 40
Age is one of the major contributing factors to developing glaucoma, although people can suffer from it at any age or even be born with the condition. If you are over the age of 40, it is very important to complete a glaucoma test every year in order to monitor your intraocular pressure. Most optometrists require or at least suggest this exam for all adults, but it is especially vital if you are older. Over time, normal wear and tear on the eye can lead to a breakdown in normal function, and genetics also come into play. The bottom line is that older adults must be tested often in order to protect their vision.
Retinal Vein Occlusion
Those who suffer from retinal vein occlusion may also find themselves dealing with vision loss from glaucoma. Retinal vein occlusion occurs when blood vessels in the eye form a clot and block the vein. It may cause temporary vision loss or blurriness in the affected eye, and should be treated immediately. Retinal vein occlusion also causes a dangerous buildup of pressure within the eye, with is what triggers glaucoma. If left untreated, this can cause complete blindness. Retinal vein occlusion does not typically cause any pain, so if you notice its other systems, seek medical care right away without waiting for the pain to set in.
Adults who are nearsighted are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. Nearsightedness means that you have trouble seeing far-away objects but can read small print up close. Researchers are not entirely sure why nearsightedness and glaucoma tend to be found in the same patients, but one explanation is the shape of the eye. At any rate, those who have poor long-distance vision should be aware that their risk of developing glaucoma and suffering vision loss is higher than that of the average person. It is important to get tested regularly in order to allow for timely treatment.
Any time that your eye is exposed to bacteria or viruses, it runs the risk of developing into a more serious complication. Eye infections are also linked to an increased risk for glaucoma if left untreated. Over time, these infections can damage the parts of the eye that cause glaucoma, leading to vision loss. Some treatments for eye infections, like steroids, can even induce the disorder. Be very vigilant for changes in vision while dealing with infections. Avoid touching your eyes at all times to prevent contracting someone else’s contagious infection. If you do develop an infection, see a doctor as soon as possible to plan treatment, rather than waiting for it to heal on its own.