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Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can cause vision loss and even blindness by damaging the eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits information from the retina to the brain. Contrary to macular degeneration,  which affects the central vision, glaucoma affects the peripheral or side vision first. This ailment is very slow in developing.

A major risk factor of glaucoma, is the elevate eye pressure, according to the National Eye Institute. Pressure buildup is often caused by a blockage of the clear fluid. The clear fluid normally flows in and out of a space (anterior chamber) in the front of the eye. The fluid nourishes tissues and leaves the chamber where the cornea and iris meet (see image). It flows through a spongy meshwork, which operates like a drain.

With the most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, the drainage angle is “open”, but pressure builds up because the fluid passes through it too slowly. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, vision loss may result. Controlling eye pressure with eye drops as well as controlling blood pressure with drugs or a healthy lifestyle may help.

But almost half of glaucoma cases occur in patients with no elevated eye pressure. This is called “normal pressure glaucoma”. Here, the cause of vision loss is unknown, though brain pressure and blood vessel dysregulation are suspected.

At greatest risk for glaucoma, according to the National Eye Institute, are African Americans over the age of forty. Also, it happens more common in those with a family history of glaucoma and those over the age of sixty, particularly Mexican Americans. Other factors that put you at risk are high body mass index (overweight) and too high or too low pressure of the brain fluid pressures.

Those determined to be at high risk for glaucoma may cut their risk in half by using special eye drops, studies have shown. Laser surgery, conventional surgery, or a combination of any of these may present additional treatment options. Understand that while these treatments may save remaining vision, they do not improve sight already lost from glaucoma. Another way to help prevent progressive worsening of glaucoma is to live a healthy lifestyle: get rid of excess weight, reduce stress levels, and participate in sports regularly.

*Image copyright: National Eye Institute