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Prevent Vision Loss: Understand the Risks for Glaucoma

Ophthalmologist examining patient's eyes

Our eyes send information to our brains in a split second, helping us make important decisions to navigate the world around us. Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve — the communication “cable” between the eyes and brain.

Glaucoma Is a Leading Cause of Blindness

There are almost no early warning signs, so many people don’t know they have glaucoma. That’s why it’s known as the sneak thief of sight. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and affects more than three million people in the United States.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, so it’s an important time to learn your risks for developing this disease and what you can do to help prevent vision loss.

What causes glaucoma?

Open-angle (wide-angle) is the most common type of glaucoma. Over time, fluid slowly builds up in the front of the eye. If it doesn’t drain properly, eye pressure increases, damaging the optic nerve. The main sign of this type of glaucoma is the loss of peripheral (or side) vision. People often don’t notice this vision loss until the disease is more advanced. There is currently no cure and no way to reverse vision loss caused by glaucoma.

What are the risk factors for developing glaucoma?

People of all ages are at risk for developing glaucoma. In some rare cases, babies can be born with it. Certain people are at a higher risk than others, including those who:

  • Are age 60 or older
  • Are Black, Asian, or Hispanic (Black people often develop it at a younger age)
  • Have a family history of glaucoma
  • Have high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Are nearsighted (able to see things clearly only if they are close to the eyes)

Your eye shape and how much pressure your optic nerve can withstand are also factors that contribute to your risk for developing glaucoma.

Can glaucoma be prevented?

There is no way to prevent glaucoma, but there are ways to help slow down the progression of the disease and stop it from damaging your eyes. One of the best ways is to get regular dilated eye exams.

This type of exam opens your pupil, which lets the eye doctor examine the optic nerves at the back of your eyes and check the pressures in each eye. Your doctor can help you understand your personal risks for developing glaucoma and how often you should get checked.

Eat Right to Protect Your Eyesight

Eating a diet rich in vitamins C, E, and A, and antioxidants like zinc is key to improving eye health. Include these power foods on your daily menu:

  • Oranges, berries, tomatoes, and peppers (vitamin C)
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, nuts, seafood, and avocado (vitamin E)
  • Carrots, sweet potatoes, and broccoli (vitamin A)
  • Eggs, whole cereals, and lean meats like chicken (zinc)

In addition to diet, regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure and protect your eyes against damage that causes vision loss.

When it comes to your health, it pays to keep your eyes on the prize — years of seeing our beautiful world clearly.

This article is informational and not intended to provide medical advice. Talk to your doctor about your personal health history and preventive care needs.
Mary Eileen O'Connor

My personal philosophy about health and well-being is to have simple goals and stick to them — whether it’s drinking more water, working in a few extra steps each day, or just making time to unplug. When I’m not busy writing creative content for a variety of audiences, my favorite ways to unwind include enjoying local arts and culture, reading a good book, and watching TV cooking shows.