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Can glaucoma be prevented?

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According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, there is no current method for preventing primary glaucoma. This may seem confusing if you’ve seen articles that talk about glaucoma prevention, but many of them are likely discussing how to prevent blindness from glaucoma, not glaucoma itself.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that lead to damage of the optic nerve. If the damage progresses enough, it can cause noticeable vision loss and even blindness. For many people diagnosed with glaucoma, further vision loss and blindness are preventable with proper treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that approximately three million people in the United States have glaucoma, but half of them don’t realize it. This is because it typically develops slowly and “silently” (without early symptoms). Many people aren't aware they have glaucoma until they notice vision loss when the disease is more advanced.

With these kinds of statistics, it's understandable that people are interested in ways to prevent or delay the onset of glaucoma.

While primary glaucoma can’t be prevented, some types of secondary glaucoma, which is glaucoma that is caused by an underlying condition, can be. This depends on what the underlying condition is and how well it is managed.

How can secondary glaucoma be prevented?

If you have a health condition that can lead to glaucoma, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or an autoimmune disorder, consistent management is crucial.

Complications from unregulated insulin and blood pressure can increase internal eye pressure, which in turn can cause glaucoma. Further, long-term treatment with a corticosteroid medication also can elevate the pressure in your eyes.

Beyond taking control of these conditions, it's vital to have regular comprehensive eye exams. This goes for everyone, not just those known to have an underlying or contributing condition. It’s not uncommon for an eye doctor to be the first to detect signs of diabetes, high blood pressure or another serious health condition.

Can glaucoma be delayed?

While there is no proven way to delay primary glaucoma, the American Academy of Ophthalmology does list some habits you can make (and break) that can potentially decrease the chances of developing glaucoma or delay its onset.

Most of these tips are related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

  • Exercise often at your recommended heart rate zone.

  • Eat plenty of leafy greens.

  • Steer clear of being upside down, such as using inversion tables or doing certain yoga poses.

  • Protect your eyes from overexposure to sunlight.

  • Watch your body mass index (BMI) and keep it in your healthy range.

  • Take care of your teeth and gums — poor oral health can lead to many other problems.

  • Cut back on or even eliminate caffeine.

Quitting smoking (or never starting) also can help. Smoking can worsen several conditions associated with glaucoma.

What are risk factors for glaucoma?

Some people have a higher chance of developing glaucoma, and knowing whether you fall into a higher-risk group can be an advantage in delaying the disease. The American Optometric Association warns that glaucoma is more likely to affect people who:

  • Are over the age of 40.

  • Are of African American, Asian or Native Alaskan descent.

  • Have diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

  • Have close family members with glaucoma.

  • Have suffered an eye injury or trauma.

  • Have retinal detachment, extreme nearsightedness, thin corneal tissue, an eye tumor or uveitis.

  • Have a history of prolonged corticosteroid use .

There is one key to getting ahead of glaucoma that all eye care specialists and researchers agree on — having regular comprehensive eye exams. Everyone should have an eye exam at least every two years. However, if you fall into any of the risk categories above, your eyes should be checked annually.

Most glaucoma progresses very slowly, and there usually are no early symptoms. Once vision loss from glaucoma has occurred, it can’t be brought back. Only an eye care specialist can detect optic nerve damage before you notice a decrease in your vision. Prompt treatment can get glaucoma under control and slow it down.

Are there ways to prevent glaucoma from worsening?

Absolutely! The best way to keep glaucoma from progressing is to catch it before there is noticeable vision loss. An eye doctor can see the early signs of glaucoma and begin proper treatment right away.

It’s also very important to let your eye doctor know about any other health conditions you’re being treated for. Some medications, especially corticosteroids, can worsen glaucoma.

Many people successfully control their glaucoma with the help of their doctor. The earliest stages can often be treated with eye drops or oral medication, while the later stages typically require both medication and surgery.

Glaucoma treatments focus on lowering internal eye pressure, and include:

Glaucoma medication

Medications for glaucoma include prescription eye drops and oral medications (pills). They work by either decreasing the amount of fluid the eye produces or increasing how quickly the fluid drains from the eye.

Glaucoma surgeries

Surgical treatments for glaucoma include minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), trabecular surgery, drainage shunts and laser surgery.

Does glaucoma go away?

Once present, glaucoma will not go away. If you’re diagnosed with glaucoma, you will need to continue treatment for the rest of your life. However, with proper management, you can carry on with your day-to-day activities.

Glaucoma can only be kept in check with diligent use of prescription medications and regular visits to an eye doctor. Those who don’t use their medications as prescribed run a high risk of further vision loss. Prescription needs can also change, so it is vital to have an eye care specialist monitor your eyes and track the progression of your glaucoma on a regular basis.

SEE RELATED: Glaucoma Treatment Options

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