The eye is filled with a thin, transparent substance called humor made almost entirely of water. This fluid gives the eye a shape but also brings nutrients to areas where blood vessels do not exist. Aqueous humor in the front of the eye supplies the lens and iris before exiting through drainage channels. When those drainage channels become restricted or blocked, the potential for glaucoma sets in.
Glaucoma is not draining
Poor functioning drainage channels or an overproduction of fluid can lead to a build-up of aqueous humor in the eye. With nowhere to go, this liquid pushes outward on the eye and has the potential to damage nearby tissue. If too much pressure is applied to the optic nerve, cells that send images to the brain can die. This can lead to blind spots and eventual irreversible complete loss of vision.
What you don’t know can hurt you
Glaucoma is a sneaky disease that can cause damage without so much as a symptom. As a result, the ailment is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world today. Because of these facts, being aware of risk factors that can lead to the condition can make all the difference. Family history and diabetes are two of the most common risk factors that can lead to glaucoma.
A dysfunctional family
While glaucoma is typically thought of as age-related, the ailment can appear at any stage of life. A family history of glaucoma does put individuals at higher risk of getting the disease, whether old or young. Since glaucoma can be inherited, genetics can cause the condition to take one of a few forms.
Primary open-angle glaucoma
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, accounting for roughly 90% of all cases. Family history is believed to play a factor in the development of the condition. This form of glaucoma is often asymptomatic and can go unnoticed until blindness starts to occur.
Early-onset glaucoma occurs in individuals under the age of 40, which can be atypical for the disease. When the condition develops in younger adults, family history is a likely factor.
Primary congenital glaucoma
Glaucoma is very rare in children. In most cases, primary congenital glaucoma results from eyes formed in a way that introduces the disease.
Diabetes is about more than sugar
Diabetes is another major contributing factor in the onset of glaucoma. Side effects of diabetes can wreak havoc on the entire eye due to swelling and blood vessel growth.
When diabetes goes unchecked, the disease can restrict the flow of oxygen to the eye. When sensing this lack of oxygen, the eye begins to produce new blood vessels where blood flow should not go. These new blood vessels can grow around the iris and drainage channels of the eye, restricting the flow of humor. As the humor backs up in the eye, pressures increase, and damage to the optic nerve takes place.
More risky business
Other risk factors for glaucoma include the following: age, high blood pressure, thin corneas, eye injury or surgery, corticosteroid use, extreme near or farsightedness. Since glaucoma is rarely detectible outside of a doctor’s office, routine visits are vital for catching the disease. If any risk factors are present, checking in with an ophthalmologist often is even more critical.