Glaucoma: The Symptoms, Causes and Care for Seniors

how to care for seniors with glaucoma

Eye health is an important concern for seniors. While it’s normal for seniors to experience some vision differences as they age (such as the sudden need for reading glasses) it’s important to watch for the signs of something more serious, like glaucoma.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a fairly common eye condition amongst seniors. It is a type of eye condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which in turn causes vision loss. The nerve damage is often caused by pressure buildup in the eye due to a blocked fluid drainage canal.

What makes glaucoma particularly dangerous is that the vision changes often happen gradually and aren’t noticed right away. Humans will naturally compensate for reduced peripheral vision by simply turning their head. Most people won’t notice this slight change until things get much worse.

This is why it’s so important for seniors to go for regular eye exams. Glaucoma can only be diagnosed by an eye doctor through a series of tests to measure things like pressure levels in the eye, the measurement of the distance between the iris and cornea, and looking at the health of the optic nerve. (Not to mention that regular eye exams can also identify other potential health conditions in seniors.)

Symptoms of glaucoma to watch out for

As mentioned earlier, many early symptoms of glaucoma often go unnoticed. It’s important to know what to look for so if you experience any of these symptoms, you can get your eyes checked out right away. There are a few different types of glaucoma, each with slightly different symptoms.

Open-angle glaucoma has symptoms usually experienced when the disease is in more advanced stages. At this stage, people often experience reduced peripheral vision, which can progress into tunnel vision. Eventually, the condition progresses to the point of blindness.

Narrow angle glaucoma has very noticeable signs that can develop quite quickly. If you develop any of these symptoms, especially more than one, it’s important to get to an emergency room or eye doctor immediately.

  • Severe headache
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision or sudden vision loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Halos or rainbows around lights
  • Eye redness

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

There are a few factors that put people at an increased risk of glaucoma. The first group is seniors in general: people over the age of 60 are six times more likely to get glaucoma. Family history is also a factor. If you have a family history of the condition, you have a higher chance of developing the condition. Your general eye health is also a factor. Those who have experienced an eye injury or have severe nearsightedness have a higher risk for glaucoma. The use of certain medications, particularly steroids like high-dose asthma inhalers, can increase your risk for glaucoma and increased pressure in the eyes.

How is glaucoma treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma and any vision loss can’t be repaired. However, once a diagnosis has been made there are ways to both treat and manage the condition to slow the progression of the condition and minimize damage. This is why early detection is so important.

All types of glaucoma can be controlled with medications, typically in the form of eye drops or oral medications. A few commonly prescribed medications used to treat glaucoma include alpha-adrenergic agonists, beta blockers, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. If medication doesn’t work or seems to lose effectiveness, surgery is usually the next step. If medication doesn’t work, surgery is typically the next option. Both laser and traditional surgery are used to treat glaucoma.