A leading cause of blindness, glaucoma typically does not develop until after the age of 40 and then becomes increasingly more common as individuals age. This condition affects 2 out of 100 people and is thought to be the cause of blindness in some 13% of the population.
This condition is very serious, particularly for those people who have a history of glaucoma in their family. When properly diagnosed and treated, glaucoma can be controlled. However, if the disease goes undetected and untreated blindness often occurs.
Causes of Glaucoma
This condition is actually a group of eye diseases which result in increased fluid pressure in the eyes. Glaucoma develops when the mechanism for draining the fluid becomes impaired and the increased pressure damages the optic nerve, which causes blind spots in the individual’s field of vision. In one type of this condition (closed angle glaucoma), the angle between the cornea and the iris closes, thus preventing normal drainage of fluid.
In primary open angle glaucoma, the vessels which drain fluid become partially clogged. The fluid (called the aqueous humour), builds up in these vessels and increases the pressure within the eye. The pressure then squeezes the optic nerve and the retina, which restricts blood flow. As they become deprived of blood, the cells in the optic nerve eventually die.
In normal tension glaucoma, fluid pressure in the eye is normal and it is unclear as to why the optic nerve becomes damaged. Some researchers believe coronary artery disease is to blame, and similarly reduces the blood supply to the eyes. This condition is more common in people with heart disease, a family history of normal tension glaucoma, or people who are of Japanese descent.
Secondary glaucoma occurs as a complication of an eye injury or a disease such as diabetes, tumor, or cataracts. This condition can also be a side-effect of using steroids, which can interfere with the draining system in the eye.
Symptoms of Glaucoma
At first, there may be no noticeable symptoms when an individual contracts glaucoma.
Along with blind spots, other symptoms of glaucoma include blurred vision, seeing halos around lights, eye pain and redness, and loss of peripheral vision.
Some other symptoms to look for include pain in the face, sensitivity to light, headaches, and watering of the eyes.
How Glaucoma is Diagnosed
An eye professional should be consulted for proper diagnosis. Glaucoma can be detected using simple tests. Thousands of people have undetected glaucoma and are not being treated because they have not undergone testing.
Many doctors treat glaucoma with a variety of drugs which reduce the intraocular pressure which is causing the condition. While many of the drugs used are derived from herbal sources, there are also a number of herbs which can prove to be helpful in treating glaucoma. Some of them include:
- Jaborandi – Pilocarpine is a standard glaucoma medicine and is derived from jaborandi, a tree which is native to South America. Folk medicine made use of jaborandi to treat diseases of the eye. Pilocarpine is sometimes prescribed in eye-drop form to treat glaucoma.
- Kaffir potato – This herb contains forskolin, which is also known to lower intraocular pressure.
- Oregano - Oregano is extremely rich in antioxidants, the substances which help to neutralize the highly-reactive oxygen molecules (more often called free radicals) in the body that contribute to the aging process and are now being questioned in some quarters as contributing to the onset of glaucoma. An easy way to bring more oregano into the diet is to mix two tsp of oregano into a cup of boiling water. To obtain even more natural herbal benefits, add a little rosemary or peppermint.
- Pansy – This flowering plant contains a valuable compound which is known as rutin and is often recommended by alternative medical practitioners for treating glaucoma. On a dry-weight basis, wild pansy flowers frequently contain as much as 23% rutin. If rutin is used in combination with conventional medications for the treatment of glaucoma, the benefits are often substantial. Rutin can also be found in violets, mulberry leaf, eucalyptus leaf, violets and pagoda tree flower.
- Bilberry – Traditionally, bilberry has been recommended for nearly every eye ailment known to man. The berries contain compounds known as anthocyanosides which retard the breakdown of vitamin C, thereby allowing the vitamin C to work harder in the body. Blueberries, a cousin of the bilberry, can also be used for treating glaucoma and many other health disorders.
- Shepherd’s purse – This herb is another powerful antioxidant that has been used in the past to “brighten vision.” Shepherd’s purse could be added to an herbal tea to treat glaucoma.
Prevention of Glaucoma
While there is no sure way to prevent glaucoma, one can reduce the risk for secondary glaucoma by avoiding high blood pressure and diabetes (this is where a healthy diet and adequate nutrition comes into play) and by protecting the eyes from injury.
Individuals who have glaucoma may want to avoid ingesting bloodroot. The active ingredient in bloodroot which may contribute to glaucoma is called sanguinaria, and this product can frequently be found in toothpaste or mouthwash due to its healing properties for gum diseases.
Regular eye examinations for individuals over the age of 60 or those who have a family history of glaucoma (start at age 40) are a necessity. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent extensive damage and eventual blindness.
Who is at Risk
Glaucoma is more often found in those over the age of 40 but becomes increasingly common as one becomes older. People with a history of cataracts, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and eye tumors may be more susceptible to glaucoma.
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