Most of us have heard of glaucoma but aren’t really sure what it is or why it is so dangerous to our vision. According to the experts at the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma is “a complicated disease in which damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss.”
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in seniors.
In general, people at higher risk for glaucoma include:
- African Americans over the age of 40
- Adults over the age of 60
- Mexican Americans
- People with a family history of the disease
Understanding the Different Types and Causes of Glaucoma
Let’s first talk about the different types of glaucoma and what causes each one. While there are many forms of the disease, the most common ones include:
- Primary open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common form of the disease. It results when canals in the eye become blocked and fluid can’t drain out of the eye. The pressure in the eye builds up and causes vision damage. Because there are no obvious early warning signs, it is important to be screened for glaucoma every year.
- Angle-closure glaucoma: A less frequent type of glaucoma, this form of the disease is caused by the iris in the eye not being as wide or open as it should be. Warning signs include headaches, rainbows around lights after dark, eye pain, nausea and blurred vision. If it is caught early, angle-closure glaucoma can sometimes be treated with surgery.
- Normal-tension glaucoma: In this form of glaucoma, pressure in the eye remains normal. It is caused by damage or trauma to the optic nerves. Some groups of people are at higher risk for normal-tension glaucoma including people of Japanese descent, those with a family history of the disease, and anyone with a history of systemic heart disease.
How Healthy Lifestyles Impact Glaucoma Risk
What you might be surprised to learn is how much lifestyle can impact your risk for glaucoma. From green vegetables to yoga, here’s what you should know.
Leafy Greens, Glaucoma and Nitrates
The link between glaucoma and green vegetables is especially interesting. Researchers say that leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collard greens and spinach, can lower your risk for glaucoma by as much as 30 percent!
According to experts, leafy greens contain a high quantity of nitrates. These naturally occurring substances are converted to nitric oxide by the body. Nitric oxide helps to dilate blood vessels thereby improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. And it doesn’t take much for you to lower your risk. Eating 1.5 servings of healthy greens a day is all it takes.
Metformin to Reduce Risk
Another substance found to lower an older adult’s glaucoma risk is one many diabetics are familiar with. It is called metformin. Physicians prescribe it for patients with diabetes to help them lower their risk for vision loss. In a study of just under 6,000 patients, those who took the highest doses of metformin for two years saw their glaucoma risk reduced by 25 percent when compared with those participants who didn’t take any metformin.
Glaucoma and Yoga
While yoga is generally considered to be a form of exercise that is safe for people of all ages, there are a few exceptions to be aware of if you have glaucoma. Because people with glaucoma have high levels of pressure in their eyes, yoga poses that require your head to be down can exacerbate the disease. Even one minute of a head-down position can increase eye pressure too much.
The American Optometric Association recommends people with glaucoma avoid these four yoga positions:
- Downward-facing dog
- Standard forward-bend pose
- Plow pose
- Legs-up-the-wall pose
To learn more about glaucoma, we encourage you to visit the Facts about Glaucoma Resource Center created by the National Eye Institute.
Do you or someone you love have glaucoma? Have you tried any of the above to help slow its progression? We’d love for you to share some of your thoughts and findings with us in the comments below.