The Nerve Of It All

The term glaucoma includes a group of diseases known to damage the optic nerve at the back of the eye. This nerve tells the brain what the eye is seeing but can’t function as expected when impaired. As glaucoma takes effect, blind spots begin to appear around the edges of vision before working inward. Over time, the condition can claim all sight in the eye.

The tension is rising

Damage to the optic nerve in glaucoma cases is almost always the result of pressure build-up inside the eye. This occurs when drainage channels in the eye become blocked, and fluid can’t exit as intended. The strain gradually crushes the optic nerve, first harming and then destroying cells. Two of the most common forms of glaucoma are primary open-angle glaucoma and angle closure glaucoma.

Open-angle glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most widespread form of the ailment, representing up to 95% of all cases. Drainage channels are typically only partially blocked, allowing pressure to increase slowly over time. The condition rarely comes with symptoms, and most patients aren’t aware the disease exists until the damage is done. Regular visits to an eye doctor are often the only way to catch open-angle glaucoma before blindness begins.

Too much pressure

Because open-angle glaucoma is usually the result of elevated intraocular pressure levels, individuals with the disease should avoid tension-increasing mediations. The worst offenders are oral steroids, designed to reduce inflammation in the eye or elsewhere in the body. Oral steroids can cause pressure in the eye to rise, sending numbers to dangerous heights.

If planning to take oral steroids, the best course of action is to see an ophthalmologist. Whether there’s a risk of glaucoma or not, the doctor can assess the situation and provide guidance.

Angle-closure glaucoma

Although much less prevalent, angle-closure glaucoma is often considered a worse form of the disease. In these situations, drainage channels suddenly become completely blocked and cause intense eye pain alongside nausea and vomiting. The condition requires immediate treatment, as blindness can result quickly.

A narrow point of view

The eye’s fluid drainage channels sit at the angle where the iris and cornea come together. Some individuals have narrower angles than others, putting those people more at risk for angle closure. Factors that increase the risk for angle-closure include the following: female gender, Inuit or East Asian ethnicity, short eyes, advanced age and family history of narrow angles

Doing more harm than good

With narrow angles, any medication causing changes to the iris can trigger angle closure. While not an exhaustive list, the following types of medicine are known to trigger this effect: motion sickness medicines, allergy/cold medications, asthma medicines, some medicines used to treat depression (tricyclic antidepressants), nausea or gastric reflux medications, incontinence or overactive bladder medications, and muscle spasm medications.

Through a comprehensive eye exam, a physician can indicate whether an eye is at risk for angle closure. Equipped with that knowledge, seeing a healthcare specialist before using any of the above medication types can prevent disaster.