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10 Things You Can Do Today to Prevent Vision Loss from Glaucoma

Jan 29, 2021 10:44AM ● By Roger M. Kaldawy, M.D., Milford Franklin Eye Center

The optic nerve works like a cable connecting the eye and the brain. Glaucoma is a progressive disease of the optic nerve.  It happens when the pressure inside the eye is higher than the optic nerve can withstand. The most common form of glaucoma is silent in the beginning but can cause slow loss of the vision if left untreated, starting with the peripheral vision first. The most frustrating characteristic of glaucoma is that for many years, the loss of vision will go unnoticed by a patient.

The optic nerve is like a cable made up of over 1 million nerve fibers that carry the information collected by your eye (retina) to the visual cortex of the brain for processing. Glaucoma slowly, decreases the ability of your optic nerve to carry this information to your brain. There are currently two basic theories as to why excessive ocular pressure causes glaucoma. Either high intra-ocular pressure decreases blood flow to the optic nerve, or high pressure, over time, physically crushes and kills the individual nerve fibers.

At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. Vision stays normal, and there is no pain. As glaucoma remains untreated, people may notice that although they see clearly in front of them, they miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. It may seem as though they are looking through a tunnel. Over time, the remaining vision may decrease until there is no vision left. Optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma is permanent; therefore, it is important to seek treatment in the early stages of the disease.

Glaucoma is a lifelong disease that will always require treatment. Glaucoma is much like hypertension and diabetes. We can control these diseases, however we cannot, as of yet, cure them. Today there are numerous ophthalmic medications available to us in the treatment of glaucoma. Some are eye drops that are used only once a day; others are used up to four times a day. More than one medication may be used to treat glaucoma. If glaucoma cannot be controlled with medications other procedures, including laser and surgery may be considered.

Ophthalmologists don’t yet know how to stop glaucoma from developing in the first place. However, there are ways to prevent serious vision loss and blindness from glaucoma. Here are 10 ways to help:

1. Catch this silent thief of sight before you lose vision. If you are at risk for glaucoma (family history, age 60 and above, Black, Asian or Hispanic, heart disease, diabetes or hypertension) you should see your ophthalmologist regularly for eye exams. They can find the disease in its early stages, then watch and treat it. It’s equally important to take your glaucoma medications exactly as your doctor says to.

2. Taking steroid medication? Talk with your eye doctor. Taking steroids for long periods of time or in high doses can raise your eye pressure, especially if you have glaucoma. Steroids that you take by mouth or use around your eyes are the most likely to raise eye pressure. However, inhaled steroids even those over the counter can do the same damage.  Always tell your eye doctor if you are taking any kind of steroids.

3. Eat well to see well. Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and colored fruits, berries and vegetables every day. They contain vitamins and minerals that protect your body and eyes. In fact, studies show that eye-healthy foods are better than vitamins at preventing glaucoma.

4. Exercise … but carefully. Intense exercise that raises your heart rate can also raise your eye pressure. But brisk walking and regular exercise at a moderate pace can lower eye pressure and improve your overall health. If you lift heavy weights, have a qualified trainer show you how to breathe properly during this exercise.

5. Protect your eyes from injury. Eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Always wear protective eyewear during sports or while working on your home and in your yard.

6. Avoid head-down positions. If you have glaucoma or you’re at high risk of the disease, don’t place your head below your heart for long periods of time. That includes staying away from inversion tables or gravity boots for back pain. Head-down positions can greatly raise your eye pressure. Some people with severe glaucoma may need to avoid certain yoga positions. Ask your doctor if you need to avoid a head-down position in your exercise routine.

7. Sleep in the right position. If you have glaucoma, avoid sleeping with your eye against the pillow or on your arm. People who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are at risk of glaucoma, or may have more serious disease. If you snore heavily or stop breathing throughout the night, get tested for OSA.

8. Protect your eyes from sunlight. There is some evidence that the sun’s UV rays may cause a type of glaucoma. Wear quality polarized sunglasses and a hat when exploring the outdoors.

9. Keep your mouth clean. Recent research links gum disease with optic nerve damage in glaucoma. Brush and floss your teeth every day and see your dentist regularly.

10. Tell your ophthalmologist about your blood pressure medicine. If your blood pressure drops too low during sleep, it can worsen glaucoma damage. If you take blood pressure medicine at night, or if you have low blood pressure symptoms (like feeling woozy), tell your ophthalmologist. They can discuss this with your primary care doctor. Do not change your blood pressure medication on your own.

At Milford Franklin Eye Center, we use state-of-the-art technology and lasers to diagnose and treat a variety of eye problems, including glaucoma. We offer high-definition optic coherence tomography testing (OCT) that can predict glaucoma before it even happens and 2 types of laser treatment when medications alone are not enough. All our offices are equipped with OCT and state-of-the-art computerized visual field testing. We operate in a state-of-the-art surgery center close to home, here at the Cataract and Laser Surgery Center of Milford. With 8 providers, decades of established experience and thousands of procedures performed, we are happy to offer state-of-the-art medical and surgical eye care for treatment of glaucoma closer to home than ever before.

For more details, see our ad on page 11.