There are many risk factors for glaucoma. Glaucoma causes blindness due to damage to the optic nerve. The two main theories of nerve damage are elevated intraocular pressure and vascular insufficiency.
An elevated eye pressure or intraocular pressure has traditionally been considered a major factor for glaucoma. There are multiple theories as to why the nerve becomes damaged with a high pressure. First, an elevated pressure causes an increase in the degrading enzymes that slowly destroy the structural integrity of the nerve. Secondly, individual nerve cells undergo apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Thus, the pressure causes both individual nerve cell death and loss of the structural environment of these cells. It is important to identify which risk factors are associated with elevated intraocular pressure to help with early detection. The risk factors for elevated intraocular pressure include:
- Being highly nearsighted or farsighted (myopia or hyperopia)
- Previous eye injury or surgery
- Steroid use
- Age over 40
- Family history of glaucoma
- African or Latin heritage
- Thin corneal thickness
Intraocular pressure is not the only factor in glaucoma. One in three glaucoma patients do not have elevated eye pressure, yet they continue to lose nerve tissue and go blind. For these patients, a decrease in blood flow to the eye or vascular insufficiency is thought to be a major risk factor. The risk factors for vascular insufficiency include:
- Diabetes/Stoke/Heart Attack
- Raynaud’s Syndrome
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Hypotension during sleep and early mornings
It is important to notify your eye doctor if you have any of these risk factors. Please schedule a glaucoma evaluation of you are at risk. Early detection is key to preventing blindness.