Eye care is a MUST for people with diabetes. Did you know that in the United States the number one cause of blindness for people between the ages of 20-74 is diabetes? (1) In Canada, diabetes is the single largest cause of blindness. (2)

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are three common problems with vision relevant to people with diabetes.They can all cause vision loss and blindness. These include glaucoma, cataracts, and retinopathy.(3)  These vision problems are very important to know about. Today’s blog will focus on the definition of glaucoma and 9 facts to know about it. Over the next few months we will continue this series and focus on cataracts and retinopathy.  

What is Glaucoma?
The Glaucoma Research Foundation describes glaucoma as not one condition but a series of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve.(4) The optic nerve is extremely important for sight. It transfers visual data by electrical impulses from the retina to the brain.(5)  The retina is located at the back of the eye. It contains rods and cones which convert light energy into impulses that travel through the optic nerve to be processed by the brain.(6)  Glaucoma is often associated with elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) which is increased pressure within the eye. It is now known that elevated IOP in glaucoma is very common but it does not always occur with glaucoma. (7)

Click here for an understanding of what happens to the eye as glaucoma develops in an animated video produced by the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

9 Facts About Glaucoma:

1. Who has a greater risk of developing glaucoma? It is sad but true that individuals with diabetes have a 40 percent greater risk of developing glaucoma than people without diabetes.(3) Glaucoma is also more common in African Americans than whites. It also runs in families and the possibility of developing it increases with age. People with a family history and African Americans have an increased risk after the age of 40 years. Infants and children can develop glaucoma. Everyone is at an increased risk after their 60th birthday.(8) Hispanic Americans are at a greater risk of open-angle glaucoma and Asian Americans are more prone to closed angle glaucoma. (9) People that are nearsighted or farsighted are also at increased risk as are those who have thin corneas.(9)

2. There is no cure. At this time, glaucoma cannot be cured and any damage it causes is irreversible. It's important to know that the disease progression can be halted and further loss of sight can be prevented when glaucoma is found in its early stages.(10)

3. Many times people with glaucoma do not have any symptoms. People may not notice problems with their vision until some of their eyesight is lost.This is why regular eye exams are needed. Glaucoma can be treated before symptoms develop.(11) Closed angle glaucoma can be acute with symptoms as the pressure in the eye increases rapidly. Symptoms may occur all at once or come and go. They include intense pain in the eyebrow area and blurred vision. The eye may feel like it will pop. Halos around lights may occur. This is a medical emergency and the person should seek immediate help.(12) Congenital glaucoma also has symptoms. Click here to read about them.

4. Testing for glaucoma does not hurt.Your ophthalmologist will generally test the pressure in your eyes. This test is called tonometry. The ophthalmologist will also measure the thickness of your cornea and examine the front outer edge of your eye. These tests will help diagnose the type of glaucoma if it is present. Testing will also include assessing if there are missing areas of sight and assessing if there is any damage to your optic nerve.(13) For more information on these tests, click here.

5. Treatments help reduce the pressure in the eyes. There are some treatments that also help with the blood flow to the optic nerve.  Many times people with glaucoma will be prescribed eye drops to help reduce the fluid build-up in the eyes. Note that the eye drops do not improve vision but help to prevent further loss. People often don’t see any difference in their sight but should nevertheless, not stop using the eye drops. Remember they are to prevent further loss. If there are any problems with the drops, the ophthalmologist working with the person should be called. Laser treatments and surgery are also used to treat glaucoma.(14) For more information on these treatments click here.

6. What happens with glaucoma if a person does not get treated? As glaucoma progresses peripheral vision disappears.This is the vision to the side of one’s visual field. As time goes on, the field of vision may appear like one is looking through a tunnel. Central vision is affected later. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) has pictures of the stages of what a field of vision would look like as glaucoma progresses.(10) Click here to view it.

7. Potential trials for those that have lost their sight. Information on trials for people that have lost their sight due to glaucoma are available at this link.
8. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests people with diabetes should have eye exams for glaucoma screening yearly after the age of 35.(12) Ask your doctor when you or a loved one should begin screening as glaucoma can begin at any age.

9. To see how much you know about glaucoma, take the Eye-Q test from the National Eye Health and Education program (NEHEP). Click here to take the quiz.

Diabetes can take a toll on the vision of people who have diabetes. Make sure you are proactive and take care of potential eye problems before they lead to vision loss or blindness.

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