The prospect of going blind, no longer being able to see the colours of the changing leaves in fall, appreciate a sunset, or bask in the glow of happy faces around the fireplace during the holidays – it’s terrifying. There’s a number of things that can cause you to go blind; glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. As you age, the chances of developing glaucoma grow, and there are a few key things to know about the condition that can keep you safe from blindness.

Glaucoma is not a single disease, but a grouping of conditions that affect the optic nerve. More commonly than not, it is caused by an excess build-up of aqueous fluid in the eye; as we age, the drainage system for this fluid can become impaired, a possible cause for the condition. Damage to the optic nerve is permanent and irreparable, so glaucoma that is detected too late will cause permanent vision impairment and possibly blindness. Glaucoma exists primarily in three forms.

The first form is known as open-angle glaucoma. This form is the most common and is caused by an excess build-up of fluid around the optic nerve causing damage to it. This type is particularly pernicious because the fluid builds up very slowly; you may have open-angle glaucoma with absolutely no symptoms, as the build-up is so ponderous that the iris adjusts and you won’t see problems until the optic nerve is damaged. Because this damage is irreversible, it’s important to detect open-angle glaucoma before the pressure gets too high.

The second form is angle-closure glaucoma; it occurs when the drainage angle is blocked off, so fluid has nowhere to go. This form of glaucoma is uncommon, and is a medical emergency; fluid builds up very quickly when it can’t drain, and this condition can cause blindness within a day.

The third and fourth forms of glaucoma are quite uncommon, but worth discussing. Secondary glaucoma results from another injury or infection, while normal-tension glaucoma occurs when there’s damage to the optic nerve but no increase in ocular pressure; why normal-tension glaucoma occurs is unknown.

Due to the severity of the condition, it’s important to address glaucoma concerns in their earliest stages; the longer you wait, the more likely it is that permanent damage will occur to the optic nerve. There’s a few tips to glaucoma prevention, but they all amount to one thing; see your optometrist regularly.

If you have an eye infection or injury, see your optometrist to make sure your eye pressure is at the right level. If you have 20/20 vision, see your optometrist regularly to make sure your overall eye health is still okay; as you now know, glaucoma can occur without affecting your vision until it does, at which point it’s too late to repair the damage. So if you’ve decided you don’t need to see an optometrist because your vision is perfect, think again; if you don’t have a Winnipeg optometrist, get in touch with Eyes in the Village.