More and more Americans are being affected by the eye disease glaucoma. Over 2.2 million people in the United States are estimated to have the disease, though only about half have been diagnosed. As much as 12 percent of blindness is believed to result from glaucoma, making it one of the leading causes of blindness, particularly in people over 60. Ten percent of people being treated for glaucoma lose their vision, and this is almost inevitable if it’s untreated; there is no cure, though surgery can stop it from getting worse in some cases.

Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases involving excessive fluid in the eye. In the most common type, primary open-angle glaucoma, happens when the channels that drain the fluid become obstructed. This causes pressure to build up inside the eyeball. This type of glaucoma is actually very responsible to treatment if caught early, but it progresses so slowly that vision may be significantly—though gradually—diminished before it is discovered. Regular eye examinations are the only way to detect the condition while it is still easily treatable and before too much vision is lost.

Glaucoma is particularly a risk for people over 60. In fact, some ethnic or racial groups, such as African-Americans, start to develop a significant risk at age 40. African-Americans are also more likely to develop blindness as a result of glaucoma. People of Asian descent are also more prone to certain types of glaucoma. Another risk factor is having a medical condition such as heart disease or type two diabetes, or a history of corticosteroid use. There is some evidence that glaucoma runs in families.

There is no cure for glaucoma and no way to reverse the damage. Eyedrops and oral medications can help alleviate the pressure by improving drainage or reducing the production of fluid in the eye. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed to open the drainage channels or implant a tube through which the fluid can drain. Relaxation techniques can help alleviate the pressure without or as a supplement to medication. Cannabis is often touted as a way to reduce the pressure, but it only works for a few hours. Lots of exercise and a healthy diet with minimal caffeine can help prevent or slow the damage from glaucoma.

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