Glaucoma: How healthy habits might help lower your risk
There are few things more precious than your eyesight. From loved ones to lovely landscapes, think of all the beauty to behold. That’s why it’s important to be aware of diseases, like glaucoma, that can sneak up and steal your vision.
Early detection is key when it comes to safeguarding against glaucoma—a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. and worldwide. But is there any way to prevent glaucoma in the first place?
While there’s no sure way to avoid glaucoma, research hints at a few ways you might help lower your risk. But first, it helps to know a little about how glaucoma works and who it often affects.
What is glaucoma?
The most common type of glaucoma—primary open-angle glaucoma—occurs when fluid normally found in the eye builds to excessive levels. There may be no symptoms when this pressure first rises. But as it goes up, it can damage the eye’s optic nerve.
Eventually, glaucoma may make it harder to see out of the side or corner of your eye. Without treatment, more and more vision can be lost for good.
Glaucoma risk factors
Glaucoma risk largely depends on factors that you can’t change, including:
- Being over 60 boosts the risk.
- Family history. If you have close relatives with glaucoma, your risk goes up.
- African Americans and Hispanics are at increased risk.
But there is one glaucoma risk factor you may be able to do something about: increased eye pressure. Not everyone with increased eye pressure will get glaucoma. But it’s often a precursor. And there’s some evidence that eye pressure can be affected by lifestyle choices.
According to the long-running Nurses’ Health Study, here’s what you can do:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Eating right and staying active might help you prevent type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can raise eye pressure and the risk of glaucoma.
- Eat your fruits and veggies. Plant-rich diets have many benefits for your health. Research suggests that green, leafy veggies especially may be associated with lower eye pressure and a lower glaucoma risk.
Know when to get an eye screening
Remember: Early detection is still your best bet to stop glaucoma. When it’s found early, medicines and other treatment may help save more of your sight.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam can catch glaucoma in time. In a dilated eye exam, the doctor uses special eye drops to widen the pupil and look for damage. He or she can also use a special tool to test for increased eye pressure.
The National Eye Institute encourages everyone 60 and older to have a dilated eye exam every one to two years. You may need to be tested earlier or more often if you are African American, have diabetes, or have a family history of glaucoma. Talk with your eye doctor about what’s right for you.
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