For many of us, glaucoma is an afterthought: A rare eye disease that only affects the elderly. However, the truth is far more complicated: Glaucoma is not only the second most common cause of blindness, but it can occur in people of many different age groups.
So, with the goals of clearing up misconceptions and educating you about this potentially serious group of diseases, here are 7 facts to know about glaucoma.
While it’s true that the risk of glaucoma increases with age, at present some 3 million Americans over the age of 40 have glaucoma, and that number will only rise as the population ages. It’s estimated that this number will more than double by 2050. Worldwide, glaucoma affects about 60 million people.
The primary type of glaucoma in the United States is known as “open-angle glaucoma.” What’s more, certain populations—including some people of African-American, Hispanic, and certain Asian heritages—are at greater risk for contracting the disorder. These odds go up significantly if a parent or sibling has glaucoma as well.
Glaucoma is caused by an increase in pressure inside the eye, which compresses and degrades the optic nerve. What’s more, because this damage often occurs before there’s any vision loss, glaucoma is sometimes known as “the silent thief of sight.” This is one of the many reasons it’s important to be aware of glaucoma symptoms and options for glaucoma treatment early on.
There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but there are glaucoma treatments that can help slow its progress. We’ll discuss one of them in a moment.
In addition to the ethnic risk factors we shared above, there are more granular risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and the long-term use of corticosteroid eye drops.
As we hinted earlier, glaucoma symptoms—including blurry vision or the loss of side or peripheral vision—typically don’t appear until after the damage has already been done. That’s why it’s so critical that you understand the risk factors for glaucoma and be sure to get regular ophthalmological exams that include an ocular pressure test.
While millions of Americans love the ancient practice of yoga and its ability to reduce stress, increase flexibility and overall wellness, certain poses may not be the best option for those with glaucoma. According to the American Academy of Opthalmology, those yoga poses that involve inverting your body—including headstands, forward bends, and downward dog—can increase intraocular pressure and should be avoided.
While there is at present no cure for glaucoma, there are several treatments that may slow the progression of the disease and help preserve vision. Conventional glaucoma treatment ranges from mild and noninvasive—such as the use of eye drops that promote ocular fluid drainage and reduce the amount of ocular fluid the eye produces—to riskier surgical interventions.
But there’s another glaucoma treatment, one we mentioned in passing a moment ago: Cannabis. Beginning in the 1970s, research on cannabis and glaucoma determined that the primary cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, THC, was effective at lowering ocular pressure some 25 – 30%.
That said, there are downsides. For one thing, because for glaucoma treatment to be effective, intraocular pressure needs to be reduced constantly. This would mean a more or less constant intake of cannabis, which isn’t practical for most people.
However, there’s a silver lining when it comes to cannabis and glaucoma. Because the eye contains a relatively high proportion of endocannabinoid receptors, some researchers believe that targeted cannabinoid-based treatments could succeed where more broad THC-based treatments fall short.
To that end, a study suggests that several cannabinoid and endocannabinoid agents show promise as safe, sustainable glaucoma treatments.
Needless to say, we’ll—pardon the pun—keep our eye on this important topic. As firm believers in the promise of medical cannabis, we’re passionate about sharing breaking news and updates from the front lines of cannabis research.