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Glaucoma Risk Factors and Causes

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Understanding the common glaucoma risk factors is critical and can be used to help protect your patients’ vision. If left unchecked and untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. In fact, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60. This common and treatable condition is caused by abnormally high eye pressure pressure.

While the condition can impact virtually anyone, there are certain glaucoma risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing the disease. Let's take a closer look at a few different types of glaucoma as well as the risk factors that can increase your patients’ chances of developing glaucoma. 

What Are the Types and Causes of Glaucoma?

There are several factors that lead to glaucoma, yet researchers still aren't sure as to the exact cause of the disease. Most researchers suggest that glaucoma is caused by high amounts of fluid build-up inside of the eye. 

What contributes to this fluid build-up? Some researchers believe an insufficient blood supply can lead to glaucoma. In order to understand this further, let’s dive into the different types of glaucoma. 

1. Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

The most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma and it occurs gradually over a period of time. Because it happens so slowly and painlessly, most people can go years without ever realizing they have the condition until their vision begins to fade. 

At this point, it may have already resulted in significant amounts of damage. Any healthy eye will have a normal amount of fluid designed to keep it properly functioning. When new fluid comes in, the old has to leave, which is where the "open angle" comes into play. 

The open angle is the part of the eye where the iris and cornea meet. This area is critical because it's where the trabecular meshwork is located, which is like a strainer with small holes that funnel to drain pipes underneath. 

With other types of glaucoma, a blockage or some other problem situated deeper in the trabecular meshwork, causes a buildup of pressure inside the eye, also known as intraocular eye pressure (IOP). Overtime, this increased IOP can cause nerve damage, which can lead to blindness and vision loss. 

2. Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma

Acute angle closure glaucoma is a rarer form of glaucoma. While primary open-angle glaucoma involves the gradual increase in eye pressure, acute angle closure can cause the IOP to spike suddenly. In most instances of acute angle closure glaucoma, the increase in IOP occurs in a matter of hours. 

This type of glaucoma is the result of the fluid not being able to properly drain as it should. Because the cornea and iris move too closely together, it "closes the angle," which leads to an acute attack. 

During an acute attack the fluid is entirely blocked from flowing through the trabecular meshwork, causing the pressure build-up to push on the optic nerve and damage it. If left untreated, it could lead to blindness. 

3. Secondary Glaucoma

When glaucoma occurs due to an external factor, like an eye injury, then it's considered secondary glaucoma.

Although rare, surgery can lead to glaucoma as a side effect. Patients with eye abnormalities or other diseases may also eventually succumb to secondary glaucoma.

4. Normal-Tension or Low-Tension Glaucoma

Another problem some patients may face is damage to their optic nerve. The fluid and/or pressure in their eye may be at acceptable levels but other factors put them at risk.

Damage to the optic nerve can result in glaucoma. There are a few reasons why the optic nerve may be damaged. The first is that the nerve may be extra sensitive from a disease, or an injury may damage it permanently.

Another reason is poor health, particularly in the individual's arteries. If the individual has clogged arteries, then blood is unable to reach the nerve efficiently. This can lead to damage to the optic nerve resulting in glaucoma.

Glaucoma Risk Factors 

There are certain glaucoma risk factors that can make patients more susceptible to developing one of the forms of this condition. 

Age

Although most individuals who are aged 60 and older are at a heightened risk of developing glaucoma, African Americans have an increased risk at age 40.

With age the chance of drainage blockages or insufficient drainage increases. Both lead to increased IOP which causes glaucoma. 

Race

African Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma than other races and are also more likely to be permanently blind as a result of it. The angle-closure type of glaucoma is more likely to affect people of Asian descent and Native Alaskans. People of Japanese descent are most likely to be impacted by low-tension glaucoma.

Family History

Studies have shown that those who have a family history of glaucoma are more likely to develop glaucoma themselves. This is likely because genetics code for the shape and efficiency of the optic nerve and drainage system in the eye. Environmental factors then push that individual towards or away from developing glaucoma.

Medical Conditions

If your patients suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure, then they're more likely to develop glaucoma. Heart disease may also increase their chance of developing glaucoma. All of these medical conditions interfere with the efficiency of blood flow.

Physical Injuries

If your patient experiences an injury to the eye, then he/she is at risk to develop glaucoma. An injury could damage the optic nerve or trabecular meshwork. This may impede releasing fluid through the eye, causing glaucoma.

Corticosteroid Use

Using various corticosteroids like cortisone or prednisone may also lead to secondary glaucoma. Extended use drives up the chances.

Symptoms of Glaucoma

Sometimes there aren't any symptoms of glaucoma. Individuals may not realize they have it until they start to lose their vision. Other signs may be blurred vision or eye pain that stems from the eye. Pressure inside the eye could be another sign of glaucoma, particularly angle-closure glaucoma.

How is Glaucoma Diagnosed?

As an eye care professional, this is another reason to stress the importance of scheduling regular eye examinations with your patients. These are needed to diagnose glaucoma. During your patient’s eye exam, keep your eye out for continued deterioration of the optic nerve or drainage system. Other health tests may also need to be performed to determine the overall health.

The retina can be examined and X-rayed to determine its health and whether or not it's changed over time. 

Finally, you may perform a gonioscopy test on your patient, which examines the trabecular meshwork and looks for any damage or inefficiencies that may cause glaucoma. 

Questions? Contact Keeler today!

We have been manufacturing diagnostic ophthalmic equipment for eye care professionals for over 100 years in our vision to contribute to a world without vision loss. We have a large inventory of ultrasonic and diagnostic equipment as well as a pharmaceutical and PPE line. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call our toll free number at 1-800-523-5620 or email us at [email protected] We offer a vast range of different ophthalmic and optometry supplies and equipment, including: 

We regularly partner with different high-tech ophthalmic solution providers, general medical instrument manufacturers, veterinary diagnostic specialists, and more to provide specialized OEM manufacturing.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.