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Glaucoma in the Elderly

With Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, it is a good time to go over what glaucoma is, how to identify it and what can be done for people who suffer from it. Glaucoma refers to a number of conditions that cause optic nerve damage that can lead to vision-loss and, in some cases, blindness. Anyone can develop this condition, but people age of 60 are most susceptible. It also tends to run in families, and those with nearsightedness, a previous eye injury, diabetes or extended exposure to cortisone are at greater risk.

Most types of glaucoma are caused by the build up of pressure in in the fluid-filled chambers of the eye. Too much pressure can cause damage to the retina and optic nerve. However, there are some types of glaucoma caused by reduced blood flow to the optic nerve, a build up of material over the lens of the eye or physical trauma to the eye.

It is important that individuals have regular and complete eye exams that check for glaucoma because it is often painless and develops gradually. The most common type is open-angle glaucoma, and it slowly causes people’s peripheral vision to recede. Since most individuals do not check on their peripheral vision and because there is no pain associated with this type of Glaucoma, people are often unaware they have it.

The exception to this is when someone suffers an acute glaucoma attack as a result of excess pressure causing the iris to be pushed against the eye and preventing fluid drainage. These events cause pain in the eye, headaches and vomiting, and they should be treated as a medical emergency requiring prompt emergency room attention.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people over the age of 55 have eye exams annually to catch the development of glaucoma as early on as possible because vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. Once someone has been diagnosed with this condition, there are a variety of treatments that can help reduce further vision loss, including oral medications, eye drops and surgery.

Although vision loss from glaucoma cannot be reversed, rehabilitation may be helpful to individuals with vision impairment. Counseling, training and technological advancements can help people get the most out of what remaining vision they have, giving them greater autonomy in their day to day lives.


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