January is Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Even if you’ve had a friend or family member experience glaucoma, you might not be aware of these more unexpected aspects of the condition, including the seven surprising facts below.
1. Babies Can Have Glaucoma
Glaucoma isn’t just for the elderly.
You can be born with the condition or develop it while you’re still in the single digits.
It is very rare, however, occurring only in every one of 10,000 births. Some of these cases are inherited, but most are not.
Often, the cause is not known.
Or glaucoma can be a secondary condition linked to a larger disease, or even trauma to the eye from an accidental injury.
- Congenital glaucoma: present at birth
- Infantile glaucoma: develops between 1 and 24 months
- Juvenile glaucoma: begins after age 3 years
2. Glaucoma Can Rob Sight Suddenly In Less Than A Day
Glaucoma most often develops slowly.
However, the type known as acute angle-closure glaucoma can also come on in a matter of hours, and in that time do enough damage to cause permanent vision loss. This is true even if there was no increased eye pressure present beforehand.
If you experience severe eye pain, often leading to nausea and vomiting, seek emergency medical care without delay.
Time is short.
The severe eye pain is coming from the intraocular pressure (IOP) rising to dangerous levels.
3. Surgery To Treat Glaucoma Has Been Around For Well Over A Century and a Half
Today, there are three primary ways to treat glaucoma to slow its progression.
Traditional surgery is still one of them, although the specific techniques and procedures used by today’s surgeons are much more advanced than the original method invented in 1856 by von Graefe.
The other mainstays of treatment are medicated drops that reduce IOP, as well as laser surgery.
4. Tests For High Pressure In The Eye Can Be Done Accurately Without Touching The Eye Itself
This assessment can be done with the air-puff test, in which a tiny puff of air bounces off the surface of the eye.
This and other tests are done during a dilated eye exam—another reason it’s so crucial to receive comprehensive eye exams regularly.
The instrument that measures your blood pressure is called a sphygmomanometer, and the instrument that measures the pressure inside your eye is called a tonometer.
You get your blood pressure checked regularly, so do the same with your IOP to preserve good vision.
5. Over 40% of Vision Can Be Lost Before A Patient Notices Symptoms
Glaucoma is called the “silent thief of sight” because it sneaks up so gradually in patients in the early stages.
Sometimes the peripheral vision closes in ever so slowly, so that it’s difficult to notice from week to week, month to month, or sometimes even year to year, that sight has eroded. I
n fact, of the almost three million Americans that have glaucoma, it is estimated that half the people who have it have no idea.
6. Colored parts of the Eye Can Flake Off Pigment Granules
The blue, green, brown, or hazel colored part of your eye is called the iris, after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.
The color comes from pigments.
In one type of glaucoma, this pigment can flake off from the rest of the iris.
The debris then travels to other parts of the eye, where it can clog ducts that drain fluid from the eye.
When the fluid cannot drain properly, the IOP builds up and leads to glaucoma.
7. Humans’ Optic Nerves Cannot Grow Back, But Many Other Animals’ Can
There are different causes at work in each type of glaucoma, but the result is the same: damage to the sensitive optical nerve.
It’s the optical nerve that carries the signals from eye to brain.
Over time, the atrophy of the optical nerve leads to vision loss.
The vision loss is permanent because the optic nerve cannot heal itself once it is damaged.
Its anatomical name is second cranial nerve II, and it is part of the central nervous system. In mammals, nervous tissue in the central nervous system cannot grow back after injury.
That is not the case, however, for most lower animals, including frogs. They have the potential to repair damaged optic nerves.
Scientists are using this characteristic as an area of inquiry for future research.
Whatever helps frogs and other lower animals carry out their repair to damaged optic nerves might someday help doctors reverse optic nerve damage in glaucoma patients.