There are plenty of quotes out there that go along the lines of ‘prevention is the best form of medicine’ or ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. Those words of wisdom offer pretty sound advice when it comes to eye care in general, and glaucoma in particular.
Glaucoma has no cure, but the risk of developing it can be minimized. While it's often mistaken for a single disease, glaucoma is actually an entire group of diseases that gradually do permanent damage to the optic nerves. In this article, we’ll offer up some practical tips you can follow to help to prevent the onset of glaucoma.
Protect Your Eyes
While not all accidents are preventable, there are plenty of things that are entirely in your hands. One of the simplest ways you can protect your eyes to help prevent glaucoma is to wear sunglasses. The sun’s warmth can be heavenly, we know, but those harmful UV rays can lead to cataracts and a form of glaucoma called exfoliation glaucoma. UV rays can create exfoliation materials that accumulate in the eye and cause undue pressure on the eye. We recommend that you wear sunglasses no matter where you live, and start your kids young, too.
If you play high contact sports or work with any machinery or tools, you should also wear the appropriate eye protective equipment for your activity. Why? Eye injuries can lead to glaucoma.
Try your best to protect your eyes while you sleep, too. Specifically, try setting yourself up in a comfortable position each night that does not result in you resting your eye against your arm or your pillow.
Healthy Diet and Exercise Benefits the Eyes
Regular, moderate intensity exercise does wonders for our emotional and physical health. By walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling just a few times a week, you may be helping to prevent the onset of glaucoma. Moderate exercise can reduce intraocular eye pressure (IEP), resulting in optical nerve damage prevention.
If you know that you are at risk for glaucoma due to family history, it is best to avoid exercise in which your head is positioned below your heart for extended lengths of time. So, consider leaving downward dog, headstands, and other inverted yoga positions behind in favor of more upright positions.
Exercise can also, along with a healthy diet, help you to maintain a healthy weight. Similar to our advice to take moderate exercise, try to aim for a moderate body weight. People with extremely low Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) are found to be at greater risk for primary angle glaucoma, while people with overly high BMIs are found to have higher pressure on their eyes in general.
Speaking of a healthy diet, try adding plenty of leafy green vegetables to one or more of your daily meals. This may help reduce the risk of developing primary open-angle glaucoma. Eating two leafy green salads a day can reduce the risk of developing paracentral glaucoma by up to 60%. Leafy greens are chock full of nitrate, which our body converts to help maintain the right amount of blood flow, keeping eye pressure low. Besides which, these vegetables also help to prevent certain forms of cancer, heart disease, and another eye condition - macular degeneration.
Clean Your Teeth to Prevent Glaucoma
A 26 year study found a correlation between periodontal disease - gum disease - leading to tooth loss and primary open-angle glaucoma. The teeth and gums have their own microbiomes. Researchers theorize that these microbiomes can be stimulated by periodontal disease, and if one or more teeth are at risk of loss or are lost due to poor gum health, the body may react with a heightened immune response. This response can make glaucoma worse. Brush and floss twice daily, and be sure to tell your dentist if you have a family history of glaucoma to watch for. Likewise, tell your eye doctor if you are currently managing periodontal disease.
Check in With Your Doctors Often
A family history of glaucoma can increase your risk of developing glaucoma three times. This is why it's important to investigate your family health as much as possible, and to keep your doctors in the loop. Genetic research shows that, contrary to popular belief, glaucoma is not a disease of elderly people. Middle age onset is common for Caucasians, and even earlier than that for people of African descent, for example. Having a brother or sister with glaucoma also increases your risk. If you find that your family history leads you to be at risk of developing glaucoma, get your eyes examined every one to two years, or as your eye doctor recommends.
If your primary care doctor tells you that your blood sugar level is on the borderline, be sure to communicate that to your eye doctor as well. Then, seek advice from your doctors to help get your blood sugar level back under control. People with higher blood sugar also have higher eye pressure, which is a leading contributor to glaucoma. People with diabetes may also be at risk.
Finally, talk to your primary care and eye doctors about your medications, especially any oral steroids or blood pressure medication. Taking steroids at high doses or for long periods of time can raise eye pressure, especially if you already have glaucoma. As for blood pressure, if your blood pressure drops too low during sleep due to medication use, it can also increase the damage of glaucoma.
Early Detection to Prevent Worsening of Glaucoma
The vision loss associated with glaucoma is slow and steady, often going undetected for years until the symptoms finally become apparent. In the worst cases, blindness can occur. This is why it's pertinent to see your eye doctor regularly. Depending upon your age, you should aim to visit your eye doctor for a full examination every one to four years, and as frequently as twice a year if you are above 65 years of age.
When you give your eye doctor the chance to really get to know your eyes and evaluate them on a regular basis, they’ll be primed to spot the earliest possible signs of glaucoma. This ensures that the disease can be treated from as early as possible, leading to a relatively manageable condition. Meanwhile, glaucoma prevention is largely in your hands. We’d be happy to help you optimize your glaucoma prevention plan—let us know if you’d like to schedule an eye examination!