A disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve, glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. Unfortunately, a majority of people who are vulnerable to this eye disease know very little about it. Gradually impairing sight without much indication, glaucoma has earned the moniker “silent thief of sight.” Several lifestyle practices are preventative and western medical intervention can slow it down or prevent further vision loss, yet there is not yet a cure for glaucoma. To protect the eyesight of you and those you love, help promote glaucoma awareness by sharing these nine facts.
- Risk Factors – Americans of all ages and backgrounds can be affected, but people at an elevated risk for glaucoma include those of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Japanese-American descent. Other risk factors are being older than 59, a family history of glaucoma, smoking, long-term treatment with high doses of steroids, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and hypothyroidism. Eye issues such as being nearsighted, having a corneal thickness less than .5mm, a history of an injury that led to retinal detachment, previous eye surgery and having eye tumors and/or eye inflammation also raises glaucoma risk.
- Detection – Because the damage from glaucoma is progressive, early detection is vital to stopping blindness. Once vision is lost, it’s permanent. Experts say that as much as 40 percent of vision can be lost without a person noticing. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get regular, comprehensive eye examinations.
- Types of Glaucoma – There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. While both involve an increase of pressure inside the eye, open-angle glaucoma is the most common. Open-angle glaucoma is when the structures of the eye appear normal, but fluid in the eye does not flow properly through the drain of the eye. Other types of glaucoma include normal-tension glaucoma, congenital glaucoma and secondary glaucoma.
- Symptoms – Most people experience few symptoms of glaucoma; however, the first sign is often the loss of peripheral (side) vision. Occasionally, intraocular pressure can spike causing sudden eye pain, headache, blurred vision or light halos.
- Prevention – While regular, comprehensive eye exams are crucial, lowering eye pressure in the early stages of glaucoma slows progression of the disease, helps save vision and may even prevent glaucoma from starting in the first place. Eye pressure can be lowered with glaucoma eye drops and by reducing blood pressure. In addition, wearing eye protection (goggles, glasses, hats) prevents serious eye injuries that can lead to glaucoma.
- Daily Exercise – Regular exercise consisting of aerobics and strength training is one of the most effective ways to prevent or stop the progression of glaucoma. Because exercise lowers insulin levels and reduces blood pressure, physical activity has an inverse relationship with glaucoma. Thus, the more active you are, the more you lower your risk of glaucoma.
Most people would be surprised to know that you can actually eat certain foods to prevent the development or worsening of glaucoma. The remaining facts provide guidance on which foods are ideal for eye health:
- Low Glycemic Foods – Insulin resistance, which is common in people with diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, is linked to elevated eye pressure. Thus, experts suggest lowering insulin levels by avoiding carbohydrates that metabolize to glucose quickly (high glycemic index) such as sweet pastries, white bread, white rice and potatoes, and choose foods that metabolize to glucose slowly (low glycemic index) such as whole wheat, rye bread, kidney beans and barley.
- Omega-3s – Omega-3 fatty acids help protect and promote healthy eye function, improve blood flow and reduce blood pressure and eye pressure. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are sardines, halibut, salmon and mackerel; or you can opt for taking a quality, daily Omega-3 supplement like Super Omega-3 Fish Oil.
- Carotenoids – Potent antioxidants, carotenoids are brightly colored pigments synthesized by plants. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two common carotenoids that are particularly suited for protecting cells in the eyes from free radical damage. Good food sources include kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and egg yolks, but they can also be found in specialized vision supplements such as the Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula. Since glaucoma is a progressive disease, it is important to protect the eyes from any further damage with these antioxidants.
Glaucoma is a major health problem, especially because an estimated half of those with glaucoma are yet undiagnosed. While those affected by glaucoma currently hovers just above four million, the National Eye Institute projects that the number of people affected by glaucoma will increase 58 percent by the year 2030.
The best way to put a stop to this leading cause of preventable blindness is to educate people about glaucoma and encourage everyone to receive regular, comprehensive eye exams. In addition, people must prioritize their sight by committing themselves to the lifestyle changes necessary for preserving their vision well into old age.