My patients often ask me if they have glaucoma. Thankfully, glaucoma is not all that common, so in most cases I can answer ‘no’. However, there are patients I encounter weekly or monthly that do indeed have glaucoma.
So, what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve that can lead to vision loss. Most of the time the main cause of glaucoma is elevated eye pressure. The pressure inside the eye is too great and it damages the optic nerve, leading to gradual loss of peripheral vision. Glaucoma progression can eventually lead to nearly total blindness. What’s scary about the disease is most people with glaucoma have no symptoms, until the disease has advanced quite far. This is one of many reasons why it’s a good idea to have a routine eye exam every year!
How is glaucoma treated? How do you prevent glaucoma from getting worse? How can we stop glaucoma progression? Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent glaucoma from getting worse. It is possible, however, to slow glaucoma progression. Typically the first step is to try and lower eye pressure.
How do you lower eye pressure? Eye drops that lower eye pressure are often prescribed. However, the efficacy of these drops depends greatly on the patient’s physiology and eyes, and can often have unwanted side-effects. There are many surgical options, including implants and laser surgeries to help lower eye pressure, but these are often used after drops have proven to be ineffective.
I’m often asked if there are natural treatments for glaucoma, or if certain foods are better than others for glaucoma. There are a few things to keep in mind that may help with glaucoma progression or help lower eye pressure naturally. However, never change or stop your currently prescribed course of action for control of your glaucoma without first talking to your eye care provider! These tips are in addition to your doctor prescribed therapy.
Like most diseases, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and quitting smoking can go a long way in improving your eye health and helping to lower glaucoma's impact on your eyes and vision.
Some studies have shown that certain vitamins such as A, C and carotenoids seem to be helpful in slowing the progression of glaucoma. Leafy green vegetables are often high in these vitamins.
Antioxidants have been shown to promote a healthy optic nerve, the part of the eye most affected by glaucoma. Antioxidants are often found in foods and beverages such as raspberries and blueberries, flaxseed and decaf tea or green tea. I mentioned decaf tea because too much caffeine has been shown to elevate eye pressure.
Mineral supplements such as zinc, calcium and magnesium may help with glaucoma as well. Although, this has not been proven clinically.
Finally, herbal supplements, much like the mineral supplements mentioned above, have not been proven clinically, but may provide some positive benefits. Herbs such as ginkgo and bilberry may have positive effects on the eyes and progression of glaucoma. Patients often ask about medical marijuana. While marijuana does have an eye pressure lowering effect, it is very brief and would require frequent use to keep eye pressure at therapeutically low levels, which would lead to other problems!
I would like to reiterate that the above tips and suggestions are in no way meant to replace your doctor-prescribed regimen. I would recommend discussing these suggestions and tips with your eye care professional and see if they're right for you before you try any of them. It’s very important to see your eye care professional regularly to monitor for glaucoma or any progression of the disease if you have it.