More than 3 million Americans are currently suffering from glaucoma. However, it’s estimated that approximately half of the people afflicted with this condition haven’t been diagnosed yet. This is due to several factors, including a common misunderstanding of exactly what glaucoma is and how it can impact people of all ages.

Therefore, it’s vital to educate yourself about the symptoms and risk factors so that you can take the proper steps to protect your vision. If you’ve already been diagnosed with glaucoma, you’ll need to develop a better understanding of this medical condition so that you can manage it more effectively.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a non-reversible eye disease that directly affects the optic nerve. Most glaucoma cases can be linked to excess fluid accumulating in the front of the afflicted eye. The pressure that is caused by this fluid is what leads to optic nerve damage.

Is Glaucoma a Serious Illness?

Glaucoma is common, with more than 200,000 new cases being diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, this eye disease is also very serious, especially when it’s not caught and treated in the early stages. In fact:

  • Glaucoma is the second most prevalent cause of blindness
  • Glaucoma cannot be cured
  • Approximately 10 percent of all U.S. cases of blindness were caused by glaucoma

As you can see, glaucoma is something you need to take very seriously. On the plus side, if you see an eye doctor regularly, you can significantly minimize your risk of permanently losing your vision.

The Glaucoma Prognosis

Your prognosis will vary depending on your personal risk factors and how long you had glaucoma before it was diagnosed. For example, African-Americans have the highest risk of developing a vision impairment or blindness. Because there’s no cure for glaucoma, people of all ages, genders and ethnicities need to be on the lookout for this medical condition. Even newborns can suffer from glaucoma.

Any vision loss that you’ve already suffered cannot be reversed. Fortunately, following your doctor’s treatment plan can usually prevent further degradation. Reducing the eye pressure is the best way to preserve your vision. You should also continue to get eye exams on a regular basis to look for any signs that the disease is worsening.

Unfortunately, 10 percent of glaucoma patients who strictly follow their doctor’s orders will still eventually go blind. Therefore, be extremely conscientious about taking your medication and protecting your health to boost your odds of staying in the 90 percent of patients who retain their vision.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Glaucoma?

No one should ever rely on early signs or symptoms to provide them with a warning that they’ve developed glaucoma. Instead, anyone 60 or older needs an annual glaucoma test. People below the age of 60 should get tested at least once every two years. There are a few exceptions for the under 60 crowd that require an annual exam instead, including:

  • A family history of glaucoma
  • Having diabetes
  • Presence of another eye disease or a family history of other eye issues

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common version of this disease. Sadly, people in the early stages of open-angle glaucoma are unlikely to notice any symptoms. Over time, a few warning signs may begin to appear:

  • Side or peripheral vision loss
  • Zero to minimal discomfort from the increased eye pressure

Other forms of glaucoma, and advanced cases of open-angle glaucoma, may be accompanied by numerous symptoms:

  • Vision loss
  • Seeing a halo when looking at a light
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Eye redness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Eye pain
  • A hazy looking eye

If you’re living with glaucoma and begin to experience an increase in symptoms, be sure to contact your eye doctor immediately for assistance.

What Are the Glaucoma Risk Factors?

Aside from African-Americans having a higher risk of going blind from glaucoma, there are a few other risk factors that everyone should be aware of. If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, this means that everyone else in your direct family line could already be affected by this eye disease. Other risk factors to consider include:

  • Being of Scandinavian, Inuit, Hispanic, Japanese, Russian, or Irish descent
  • Having diabetes
  • Suffering any trauma to one or both eyes
  • Having poor vision, especially extreme nearsightedness
  • Taking prednisone or certain other steroid medications

How Will Glaucoma Affect My Life?

Living with glaucoma can be a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be. If you were diagnosed early on and have stuck to your treatment plan, the odds are high that you will retain your vision and suffer from minimal side effects.

Sadly, if vision loss already began by the time you were diagnosed, you can expect that loss to remain for the rest of your life. For instance, if your peripheral vision has become less clear, you’re going to need to learn to adjust to receiving reduced visual input from the sides of your eyes. Getting regular eye exams and sticking to your treatment plan can still help prevent glaucoma from having a more severe impact on your life.

Will I Have to Take Medication for Glaucoma?

There are three primary treatment methods for glaucoma: Eye drops, microsurgery and laser surgery. Most glaucoma patients will use eye drops for the rest of their life. People with open-angle glaucoma may also be treated with a combination of microsurgery, laser surgery and eye drops.

How Can I Manage Glaucoma?

You can do numerous things to make it easier to manage your glaucoma. As a result, you’ll reduce your risk of developing blindness or a serious vision impairment.

1. Get Organized

You need to have an organization system that includes all the pertinent details about your medication and doctor appointments. Set a reminder in your phone about future appointments, and always tell medical professionals about your glaucoma medication.

2. Watch Out for Medication Side Effects

Serious side effects should be immediately reported to your eye doctor. It’s also necessary to inform your optometrist if the medication doesn’t work as expected.

3. Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Glaucoma is far from the only eye problem you could develop. Protect your vision by wearing goggles in water and protective eye glasses for sports and lawn work. Avoid rubbing your eyes, even if they’re itchy. Steer clear of potential eye irritants, including eye cosmetics.

4. Tend to the Rest of Your Health

There are several general health techniques that can help keep your glaucoma from getting worse:

  • Reduce your sodium intake
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Minimize your caffeine intake
  • Take steps to reduce your daily stress level

Living with glaucoma is permanent, but it doesn’t have to rob you of your vision. Carefully follow your doctor’s treatment plan and keep all your scheduled eye appointments. This will make you dramatically less likely to become one of the 3.4 million Americans suffering from a serious vision impairment or blindness.