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6 Common Myths About Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which increased pressure causes progressive, permanent vision loss and even blindness. Unfortunately, many misconceptions about the disease can leave you misinformed. Below we sort fact from fiction by debunking 6 of the most common glaucoma myths.

Glaucoma Facts vs. Myths

MYTH 1: Glaucoma is a single disease

FACT

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases; the most common ones are open-angle glaucoma (OAG) and angle-closure glaucoma (ACG).

In open-angle glaucoma, the drainage structure in your eye (called the trabecular meshwork) doesn’t allow the fluid inside the eye to flow out as it should, causing an increase in internal ocular pressure that damages the optic nerve. OAG develops slowly, and usually by the time people perceive symptoms, such as peripheral vision loss, they already have optic nerve damage.

In angle-closure glaucoma, the eye doesn’t drain fluid as it should because the drainage channel between your iris and cornea becomes too narrow, causing increased eye pressure. This pressure damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. ACG can occur suddenly or gradually.

MYTH 2: Only the elderly suffer from glaucoma

FACT

Although it’s true that people over 60 are at a greater risk of developing open-angle glaucoma compared to people in their 40s, there are other types of glaucoma that can affect people aged 20 to 50 and even young infants (due to abnormal ocular development).

In addition to age, those with a higher risk of developing glaucoma include:

  • African Americans and Hispanics
  • Individuals with a family history of glaucoma
  • Patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or sickle cell anemia
  • Those who have previously sustained an eye injury
  • People taking steroid medications over the long term

MYTH 3: Glaucoma shows symptoms early on

FACT

The most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma, shows virtually no signs or symptoms until its later stages when vision loss sets in. Despite what people may think, the increased eye pressure causes no pain. And since peripheral vision is the first to go, you may not recognize vision loss until your vision has become significantly impaired. The only way to detect glaucoma is to undergo a comprehensive eye exam.

MYTH 4: Nothing can be done once you have glaucoma

FACT

While there’s currently no cure for glaucoma, many effective treatment options exist: eye drops, oral medications, as well as laser and surgical procedures that can help slow glaucoma progression. Each treatment option is used to get the fluid to flow properly out of the eye, reducing pressure inside the eye and decreasing damage to the optic nerve.

MYTH 5: Testing for glaucoma is painful

FACT

Actually, testing for glaucoma is practically painless. One of the tests includes a non-contact device that blows a gentle puff of air into each eye to test the intraocular pressure. The sound of the puff may be startling, but it’s over in a second and is painless. With the Goldmann applanation tonometry test, an anesthetic eye drop is inserted into each eye, which may cause a stinging sensation for a few seconds. Your eye doctor will then use a blue light to quickly and gently touch the cornea to precisely measure intraocular pressure. The most accurate of all, however, are visual field testing and OCT (optical coherence tomography), non-invasive imaging, both of which are also painless.

MYTH 6: You can’t prevent glaucoma

FACT

Regular eye exams are the only way to prevent glaucoma, as blindness or significant vision loss can be prevented if the disease is diagnosed and treated in the early stages. That’s why routine comprehensive eye exams which include glaucoma testing are so important.

Getting your eyes checked regularly can ensure that any existing eye problems are detected early enough to prevent or slow ocular damage. Contact Accent on Eyes in Glassboro to book your comprehensive eye exam today!

Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. William S. Berger

Q: If one of my parents has glaucoma, does that mean I will develop it as well at some point?

  • A: Having a parent with glaucoma does not mean that the child will automatically develop the condition too. However, those people with an immediate family history (parents, siblings) of glaucoma are at more risk to develop this disease. Patients should have a comprehensive eye examination each year to evaluate the health of the eyes and to look for signs of glaucoma. Some of these signs can be an increase in the pressure of the eyes as well as changes to the appearance of the optic nerve. Many times there are no symptoms noticed by the patient. If there is suspicion of glaucoma, more frequent visits to the eye doctor along with additional nerve testing are often required.

Q: Why do I need to scan my retinas/back of the eye?

  • A: The retina shows us a lot about the overall ocular health as well as systemic conditions that can affect the eyes. Often diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol can be observed from a retinal scan. Also, retinal scans allow us to diagnose and treat macular degeneration and glaucoma. Scans are often very important for a complete eye check up.

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Glassboro | Could a Low-Carb Diet Reduce Your Risk of Glaucoma?

A recent eye care study points to a possible connection between carbs and preventing glaucoma.

30 Second review.

Recently, an eye doctor at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE) conducted a unique research study exploring the potential link between long-term dietary changes and preventing primary open angle glaucoma (POAG). The study’s results indicated that if people at a high risk of developing glaucoma eat a diet that’s low in carbohydrates and high in fat and vegetable protein, they may lower their risk of this sight-threatening ocular disease by 20 percent. These results were published in Eye-Nature (July 22 issue).

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Many eye diseases can be quickly and easily diagnosed during a Comprehensive eye exam, Pediatric eye exam and Contact lens eye exam. If you were diagnosed with an eye disease, such as Myopia or Nearsightedness, Cataracts, Glaucoma, Macular degeneration, Diabetic retinopathy, or Dry eye, you may be overwhelmed by the diagnosis and confused about what happens next. Will you need medications or surgery – now or in the future? Is LASIK eye and vision surgery an option for you ? Our Glassboro eye doctor is always ready to answer your questions about eye disease and Contact lenses.

Why are these glaucoma study results so significant?

Currently, glaucoma is the #1 cause of blindness in the United States, and primary open angle glaucoma is the most common type of this dangerous eye disease. Due mainly to elevated pressure levels inside the eye, POAG leads to optic nerve degeneration – causing vision loss.

Usually, patients experience no symptoms of POAG until the disease progresses, and visual problems motivate them to visit a nearby eye clinic for an eye exam. Regular eye exams by a qualified optometrist can detect the early signs of POAG way before vision loss occurs, but unfortunately, many people don’t visit an eye care provider until they notice a problem. In addition to routine eye exams, following a low carb diet may fortify people with another way to help prevent devastating vision loss.

How does the low carb diet affect eye health?

Eating foods that are low in carbohydrates and higher in fats and proteins causes the production of metabolites that are favorable for the optic nerve head, which is the specific site of damage in primary open angle glaucoma. Previous scientific studies have already linked this type of diet with positive effects on epilepsy, along with some promising results for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

While the low-carb diet cannot stop glaucoma progression in a patient who already has the disease, it may be a helpful way to prevent glaucoma in high-risk groups, such as people with a family history. Subsequently, the rate of vision loss due to glaucoma would be reduced.
Does a low-carb diet have the same effects as a ketogenic diet?

In the past, studies have demonstrated the protective effects that a ketogenic diet can have against neurologic disorders. (Ketogenic diets = extremely low-carb and higher-fat.). That’s because ketone bodies (energy compounds made by the body as it metabolizes fats) are used by the brain as a major energy source instead of glucose, and using more of these may enhance neurologic function and slow down neuronal degeneration. However, additional studies have shown that following a low-carb diet, not specifically ketogenic, may have similar properties for protecting against neurologic problems. And because a moderately low-carb diet is easier for most people to follow and doesn’t cause the same possible side effects of a ketogenic diet (e.g. headaches, abdominal issues, weakness, and irritability), it has been lauded as a more practical alternative.

How was the study on low-carb diets conducted?

The goal of the research study was to determine if following a low-carbohydrate diet for the long-term could have a positive impact on the optic nerve.

Your optic nerve transfers visual information from the retina to your brain, and it is located at the back of the eye. There is a large concentration of mitochondria (the major source of a cell’s energy supply) in the optic nerve. Because glaucoma is associated with dysfunctional mitochondria, researchers aimed to discover if substituting fat and proteins for carbohydrates would improve mitochondrial activity, preserve the function of the optic nerve, and prevent optic nerve degeneration in POAG (specifically, in a subtype of POAG with paracentral vision loss).

A large-scale study was formulated, involving 185,000 adults – female nurses and male health professionals between the ages of 40 – 75, between 1976 – 2017. Every two to four years, participants filled out questionnaires about what they ate and drank, as well as supplied information about their health condition. If they said they had glaucoma, the researchers followed up with their eye doctors to determine if they had POAG.

Data about the study’s participants was classified into three groups, based on how they achieved a low-carb diet:

  • Group 1 – Substituting animal-based fats and proteins instead of carbs
  • Group 2 – Substituting plant-based fats and proteins instead of carbs
  • Group 3 – Replacing carbs with high fats and proteins, regardless of the source

In the end, the results showed that people in Group 2 (increased plant-based fat and protein) were linked to a 20% lower risk of developing POAG compared to people who followed a high-carb diet. These findings suggest that vegetable sources may be beneficial than animal sources for a low-carb diet, with respect to lowering the risk of this subtype of open-angle glaucoma with paracentral vision loss.

What’s the take-home from this study?

First of all, eye doctors caution to remember that this was an observational study and not a clinical trial – so additional studies are needed to investigate the connection between dietary patterns and preventing POAG. Other issues, such as genetics, may also play a significant role. While it’s too early for optometrists to hang signs banning carbohydrates in their eye clinics, early findings do point to the eye care benefits of following a low-carb, plant-based diet. It’s time to stock up on legumes, avocados, nuts and tofu!

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