When caring for a loved one with a disease, signs and symptoms of other health issues can be easily overlooked. If you’re caring for someone — especially someone who is elderly — glaucoma is one of which to be aware.
Often referred to as the “the sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness; the key word being preventable. Because there are typically few, if any, symptoms in the early stages of the disease (60 percent of people with glaucoma don’t know they have it), it’s important for those caring for others to know the signs and how to prevent the disease before it gets serious.
Some people are at higher risk than others for developing glaucoma. If the person in your care falls into one of the following categories, you will want to be extra vigilant:
- African Americans, Latinos and Asians
- People age 60 and over
- Those with a family history of glaucoma
- People who use steroids (such as those used to control asthma)
- People who suffer from diabetes or cardiovascular disease
- Those who have previously suffered from eye injury
There are two main forms of glaucoma. In the first, open-angle glaucoma, there are typically no symptoms until some sight has been compromised. As the disease progresses, sufferers may notice blind spots in their peripheral vision.
Angle-closure glaucoma on the other hand has symptoms that can come on quickly and require immediate medical attention. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include the following:
- Hazy or blurry vision
- Seeing rainbow-colored circles around bright lights
- Intense headache or eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting along with eye pain
- Sudden loss of sight
Glaucoma can only be diagnosed during a complete eye exam. According to the American Association of Ophthalmology, eye pressure checks alone are not enough. Included in a complete eye exam should be the following:
- Eye pressure measures (tonometry)
- Eye drainage angle inspected (gonioscopy)
- Optic nerves inspected (ophthalmoscopy)
- Peripheral vision tested (visual field test)
Once detected, eye drops will often be prescribed. However, studies have shown that about 60 percent of glaucoma patients fail to consistently use the medication, so having a caregiver who can help keep them consistent is valuable. Some patients may require surgery to treat glaucoma.
Because most of the time there simply are no signs of glaucoma before damage has been done, regular eye examinations are the best source of prevention. Once vision has been lost to glaucoma, there are currently no treatments that can restore it, but if it’s discovered early, vision loss can be prevented or minimized. There’s also some evidence that certain foods, such as spinach and other leafy green vegetables, may help prevent glaucoma.