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Does Glaucoma Affect the Brain?

Glaucoma? Yikes. Affecting the brain? Double yikes. But no worries, that’s why we’re here! Keep reading, and we’ll teach you everything you need to know.

Let’s Learn About Glaucoma

First things first, what exactly is glaucoma? Simply put, it deals with a buildup of pressure inside your eye. It’s commonly referred to as a group of eye conditions that damage one’s optic nerve and severely impacts vision. It can occur at any age, but it’s mostly common in older adults and typically runs in families. Around 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and if left untreated, it can ultimately cause blindness. It’s actually the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, with the first being cataracts. If you’re in a reading mood, we have a blog about that too!

But back to glaucoma… While there’s a few different types, the two main ones are open-angle and angle-closure. Of those two, the most common is open-angle. And when we say common, we’re talking like, 90% of cases common.

Open-angle glaucoma develops relatively slowly, and symptoms don’t occur until the more advanced stages. Because there aren’t many symptoms early on, about 50% of people with glaucoma don’t even know they have it.

When symptoms develop later, patients might experience:

  • Patchy/ blind spots that affect your vision (both peripheral and central) and most likely in both eyes
  • Tunnel vision (more often in advanced stages)

Acute angle-closure glaucoma happens extremely quickly, potentially in a matter of just a few hours. You might be wondering, what exactly is happening when this occurs? There is a sudden increase of pressure inside your eye because the fluid in your eye isn’t able to drain the way it normally should.

It’s way more noticeable than open-angle, and some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Eye pain
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Seeing rainbows or halos around lights
  • Redness in the white part of the affected eye
  • Pupils of different sizes
  • Sudden loss of sight

Okay… so how does glaucoma affect the brain?

The increase of pressure in your eye (AKA intraocular pressure) that we talked about earlier can actually damage your optic nerve, which is responsible for sending images to your brain. Vision loss or total blindness can occur within just a few years if the damage gets worse with no treatment.

While many people might think glaucoma is just an eye disease, it’s actually considered a neurodegenerative disease. Let’s break that down. Neuro= nervous system and degenerative= decline and deterioration. Basically, a neurodegenerative disease means that some cells in your nervous system start to decline and stop working. Your central nervous system is made up of your brain and spinal cord. So, in a nutshell, yes glaucoma affects part of your brain- the specific areas being the optic nerve and your eyes.

Obviously glaucoma physically affects the brain, but what about mentally?

It might come as no surprise, but dealing with a condition like glaucoma can have some negative repercussions on someone’s mental health. Studies in the past have shown that those diagnosed with glaucoma might experience anxiety, depression, negative self-image, poor psychological well-being, and reduced confidence in health care. In many cases, the glaucoma diagnosis caused anxiety and/ or depression in patients.

Treatment + Preventive Care

While glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled with the help of eye drops, oral medicine, laser treatments and surgical operations. Your age and genetics are big risk factors, so if your family medical history includes glaucoma, you might want to start getting eye exams more often.  With regular eye exams, early detection and treatment will be your best bet for prevention against severe vision damage or loss.

After learning all about glaucoma and the brain, have no fear. Luckily for you, PECG has a glaucoma specialist! You can read more about Dr. John O’Donnell and his work surrounding glaucoma here.

Located in Camp Hill, PA and Harrisburg, PA the PECG team is ready to answer any questions and provide you with the best eye treatment and care. Contact us at (717) 232-0843 or (717) 761-3077 to schedule an appointment today!

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