A staggering four million Americans currently have glaucoma, a condition that causes increased pressure to the optic nerves within the eyeball and gradually leads to complete blindness. But perhaps even more surprising is the fact that a great majority of those afflicted have no idea they have glaucoma. This is due to the fact that the condition causes almost no discomfort or vision issues during the early stages.
Unfortunately, glaucoma can destroy your vision before you realize there’s a medical problem. That’s why it’s imperative to be vigilant of the following risk factors that make one prone to the disease…
1. Advanced Age
As with many other health conditions, advanced age puts an increased risk on any person for developing glaucoma, particularly people who are 60 and older. Unfortunately, for some people of African-American descent, the risk increases much earlier (i.e., around the age of 40). People who fall into the high risk age group should start getting an eye exam on a regular basis, about once a year.
2. Family History
We should all be up to date with our family’s medical history, especially the ones with a track record of diseases and conditions. This is because family history plays a major role in the potential risk factors for this condition. People who have a family history of glaucoma are at a greater risk of developing the disease by association with family members and genetics. This means that if you’re related to individuals with glaucoma, you may be more susceptible to developing the condition yourself. It also means that your family line may carry the defective genes that make humans prone to glaucoma.
Ethnicity is a major risk factor for glaucoma. As previously mentioned, African-Americans are more likely to develop this condition. While most people’s risk doesn’t start until the age of 60 and older, they are at a heightened risk by the age of 40.
According to The Glaucoma Foundation, other ethnicities that are at a higher risk are those of Latino ancestry and Asian descent. “People with African and Latino ancestry have a greater tendency for developing primary open-angle glaucoma than do people of other races. People of Asian descent are more prone to develop angle-closure glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma,” writes the source.
4. Eye Pressure
A slightly higher internal eye pressure (or elevated intraocular pressure, also referred to as High IOP) will also increase a person’s chances of glaucoma affliction. If you know that you do have elevated intraocular pressure, regular eye exams are important. VisionAware notes that most eye care professionals “define the range of normal intraocular, or ‘within the eye’ pressure (IOP) as between 10 and 12 mm Hg [i.e., millimeters of mercury, which is a pressure measurement].” It also goes on to say that people with glaucoma often have an IOP of more than 21 mm Hg.
5. Existing Medications
There is some evidence that links steroid use to glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation cites a 1997 study that was published in the Journal of American Medical Association which found that glaucoma has been linked to long-term corticosteroid use, particularly for long-term allergy sufferers. The study found a 40-percent increase in “the incidence of ocular hypertension and open-angle glaucoma in adults who require approximately 14 to 35 puffs of steroid inhaler to control asthma,” writes the source. This includes eyedrops, pills, inhalers, and creams, says VisionAware. Studies relate continuing use of the drug to a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
6. Eye Trauma
A major eye injury can also predispose you to glaucoma development if the injury causes an increase in your internal eye pressure. For instance, a tumor, detached retina, or lens dislocation can actually trigger glaucoma. “Injuries to the eye, such as blunt trauma and sports injuries, or a history of multiple eye surgeries for chronic eye conditions. Blunt trauma can create inflammation in the eye or alter the anatomy of the drainage system of the eye and place the patient at increased risk for development of glaucoma,” writes VisionAware.
Another source of eye trauma could be from surgery which causes inflammation. “Usually the inflammation is limited and causes very minimal alteration of the anatomy of the drainage system of the eye. However, in rare cases, more inflammation and/or damage to the drainage structures in the eye can occur, putting the person at increased risk for glaucoma.”
Diabetes is a major health problem in the U.S. It affects over 29-million Americans, says The Glaucoma Research Foundation. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. One is passed on through family history while the other develops due to lifestyle factors like age, diet and a sedentary lifestyle. The most common is adult on-set diabetes which typically strikes people who are over the age of 40, overweight, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. A common complication of diabetes is diabetic eye disease which includes diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. It also includes glaucoma.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation writes, “the relationship between diabetes and open-angle glaucoma (the most common type of glaucoma), has intrigued researchers for years. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as are non-diabetics, although some current research is beginning to call this into question.” The same goes for people who suffer from open-angle glaucoma. They are at a higher risk for developing diabetes than someone who doesn’t suffer from this eye condition.
8. Existing Medical Conditions
In addition to diabetes, there are other particular medical conditions that have also been linked to increase glaucoma risk. Mayo Clinic writes that medical conditions such as “diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia” are among the important risk factors for glaucoma. It also includes people who suffer from migraines.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Optometry explained that clinical studies have found an association between low diastolic pressure, lower ocular perfusion pressure (OPP) and a higher risk of glaucoma.
Gender does play a role in glaucoma risk, especially when it comes to what type of glaucoma a person will develop. There are three different types: open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, and normal-tension glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation explains that women are a whopping 50-percent more likely to develop angle-closure glaucoma than men. The reason behind this is not yet clear.
On the other hand, a 2017 study on glaucoma history and risk factors found that male gender was useful for predicting the onset of primary open angle glaucoma. “A Bayesian meta-analysis found that men were more likely to have OAG with the reservation that gender influence depends on the definition of glaucoma…there is no clear gender predilection for OAG,” writes the study.
According to a study published in the Journal of Optometry, myopia is a big risk factor for glaucoma. “It is also more prevalent among Asian patients may help explain increased prevalence. In addition, that high myopia and increased axial length in certain age groups have both been identified as risk factors suggests that the risk of glaucoma development and progression increases with the degree of myopia,” writes the source.
11. Other Eye-Related Risk Factors
Of course there are a few risk factors that we should still be wary of that don’t necessarily fit into any of the categories listed above. The American Optometric Association explains that “certain features of eye anatomy, namely thinner corneas and optic nerve sensitivity, indicate an increased risk for developing glaucoma.” There are also conditions like retinal detachment, eye tumors, and eye inflammation that can trigger glaucoma. There’s even some studies that show nearsightedness may also be a risk factor.
VisionAware points out that people with hyperopia (farsightedness) are at a higher risk for narrow-angle glaucoma, also sometimes referred to as angle-closure glaucoma or closed-angle glaucoma. Also, anyone with a corneal thickness less than 0.5 millimetres.