Each new year brings endless opportunities for us to see the world in new and different ways, but to take it all in, we have to keep our eyes healthy. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and there are currently over 3 million people in the U.S. living with this condition.
While you’ve likely heard of glaucoma, many people don’t have a solid understanding of the effects of glaucoma, its risk factors, or preventative measures. In this article, I’m going to define the basics of glaucoma and how you can lower your risk of developing this common eye condition.
Glaucoma and Risk Factors. Glaucoma is a condition that damages the optic nerve and can eventually cause total vision loss. Although there are different types of glaucoma, most of them involve fluid build-up in the front of the eye that causes increased pressure on the optic nerve. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma and occurs when fluid drainage ducts in the eyes don’t function efficiently.
There are certain factors that put individuals at a higher risk for developing glaucoma in their lifetime. According to the Mayo Clinic, common risk factors are as follows:
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over age 60
- Being of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or sickle cell anemia
- Having corneas that are thin in the center
- Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eyedrops, for a long time
How to Prevent Glaucoma. While modern science doesn’t fully understand all of the actual causes of glaucoma, there are still steps you can take to preserve the health of your eyes for life. Here are a few self-care tips for preventing glaucoma.
- See your eye doctor regularly. Timely comprehensive eye exams are the only way to ensure you catch any eye conditions early before they can cause substantial damage. The recommended frequency of eye exams depends on your age and risk factors. Preventblindness.org suggests adults under 40 have an eye exam every three to five years, adults 40 to 64 have one every two to four years, and those over 65 have their eyes checked every one to two years. Depending on your risk factors, you might be in need of more frequent comprehensive exams. Talk to your eye doctor about what exam schedule is right for your needs.
- Incorporate regular, moderate exercise. This piece of advice can be applied almost universally to any preventative treatment plan. It’s been shown that moderate exercise, such as walking or jogging, three or more days per week can help reduce pressure in the eye.
Protect your eyes. Traumatic injuries to your eyes can cause certain types of glaucoma. Be sure to wear eye protection when engaging in activities where your eyes could be at risk, such as sports and home improvement projects.