For now, I’ll use an analogy to explain glaucoma in simpler terms (bare with me). Since glaucoma is the result of pressure buildup in the eye, it’s applicable to think of your eye like a tire. When you add air pressure to a tire, a certain amount is recommended and safe. Now I’m no mechanic, and this isn’t an article about cars, but normal tire pressure is typically between 32 and 36 pounds per square inch, or PSI (give or take). If tire pressure exceeds normal PSI, it may result in problems like premature wear & tear and/or overheating, which can lead to an even bigger problem like a tire blowout, or even an accident.
A certain amount of pressure in the eye is also safe, but it fluctuates depending on certain factors such as time of day and corneal thickness. The general consensus is that eye pressure should be less than or equal to 21mmHg. If eye pressure becomes elevated, it may lead to damage of the optic nerve and/or eventual peripheral vision loss. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg because if elevated eye pressure goes unchecked, it can lead to permanent blindness.
If I notice certain risk factors or warning signs in a patient, I’ll start the glaucoma protocol. Glaucoma is typically detected through a comprehensive set of exams that include the following:
- Visual acuity test – tests ability to see distance or near
- Visual field test – measures peripheral vision
- Dilated eye exam – expands the pupils in order to examine the retina and optic nerve
- Tonometry – measures pressure inside the eye
- Pachymetry – measures cornea thickness
- Gonioscopy – examines angle structures of the eye
It may take one or all of these tests to piece together a diagnosis. Sometimes it takes years of observation before an actual diagnosis takes place. When a patient is being monitored for glaucoma, the doctor is typically looking for change in the size of the optic nerve, or visual field loss.
First and foremost, it’s best to get regular eye exams because the earlier you catch glaucoma, the better off you’ll be. The most important thing to understand when dealing with glaucoma is that it CAN be treated. As always, compliance with your treatment regimen AND communication is the key to success. Glaucoma medications can be very expensive so it’s best to communicate with your eye doctor because there are also cost-effective alternatives available.
Treatment usually starts with medicated eye drops. These are designed to lower eye pressure and must be taken every day. If successful, the drops will either reduce the amount of fluid in the eye or assist with drainage. If the eye drops aren’t working, there are several surgical procedures that lower eye pressure and protect the optic nerve.
It’s also been stated that marijuana is a useful treatment for glaucoma. This may be true to a certain extent. Marijuana has been known to ease some eye pressure caused by glaucoma, but only for a few hours at a time. Since glaucoma needs to be tracked around the clock, an abnormal amount of marijuana will be needed to properly balance the effects. Even though marijuana may indeed have certain medicinal properties, I can’t (in good conscious) recommend it because the side effects from constant marijuana use can cause other complications.
I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point (or even the proverbial scratched CD), but the key to preventing blindness from glaucoma is early detection. However (and here goes the broken record again), the more we practice good health habits, the more we fight off complications. This theory not only holds true with eye health, but with total body health as well. If we’re doing the right thing to protect our eyes, chances are we’re doing the rest of our body justice.
And as always, nutrition also plays a big role in prevention. A recent study found that patients who consume dark leafy green vegetables had a lower lifetime risk of glaucoma compared to those who didn’t. If that’s not enough, these same leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc.) can also prevent age-related macular degeneration. But if dark leafy greens aren’t your thing, darker colored berries (blueberry’s for example) may have the same effect.
It’s also a good idea to keep your blood pressure low because high blood pressure may be linked to elevated eye pressure. This can be done by lowering insulin levels. High insulin is usually the result of consuming foods such as pasta, bread, potatoes, and anything with large amounts of sugar. If you’re concerned about glaucoma, you’ll want to steer clear of these insulin spiking foods.
Exercise is another excellent way to fend off glaucoma. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and/or strength training can do wonders for your overall health and protect from vision loss. On the opposite end, smoking cigarettes can lead to glaucoma and/or worsen its symptoms, which is another good reason to kick the habit.