Glaucoma is a condition in which damage to the optic nerve leads to permanent vision loss. It is the second leading cause of blindness all over the world. Since it causes no pain or symptom until vision loss becomes noticeable, it often goes undetected until it is quite advanced. Medical treatment like pills, eye drops, laser or surgery is essential to prevent further deterioration of glaucoma. However, a healthy lifestyle and some nutritious food and supplements can improve symptoms and avoid damage.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a medical condition that leads to damage to the optic nerve and vision loss. Glaucoma usually occurs due to abnormally high pressure inside your eye. Over time, this high pressure erodes the optic nerve tissue, which can cause loss of vision and even blindness in some cases. Almost 50 % of people with glaucoma are unaware of it until severe loss of vision has occurred. Although this condition is not curable, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent additional vision loss.
Types of glaucoma
There are two main kinds of glaucoma
Also called wide-angle glaucoma, this is the most common kind of glaucoma affecting around 4 million Americans. In this kind of glaucoma, the angle in your eye where the iris meets the cornea is as wide as it should be, but the drainage canals of the eye are clogged. This leads to increased eye pressure and subsequent damage to the optic nerve. This glaucoma develops slowly, with no early warning signs.
Also known as acute angle or narrow-angle glaucoma, this glaucoma is less common. It is caused by a blocked drainage canal, which results in a sudden rise in intraocular pressure. In this glaucoma, there is a closed or narrow-angle between the iris and the cornea. It develops very quickly, and its symptoms are apparent. It is also linked to farsightedness or cataracts in the eyes.
Other kinds of glaucoma include –
In this glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged even though the eye pressure is not high. It is also called low-tension or normal-pressure glaucoma.
This type of glaucoma occurs in babies with incorrect or incomplete development of the eye’s drainage canals during the prenatal period. It can be corrected with microsurgery or with medication or surgery. This condition may be hereditary.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Most people do not have any symptoms of glaucoma, which is why it is known as the ‘sneak thief of vision.’ The first sign of open-angle glaucoma is the peripheral loss of vision, which often goes unnoticed. You must undergo a complete eye exam with an eye specialist every year to ensure early detection. In the case of angle-closure glaucoma, the symptoms are very noticeable, and the damage occurs quickly. The symptoms include –
- Severe eye and head pain
- Blurred vision
Nausea or vomiting
- The appearance of rainbow-colored circles around bright lights
- Sudden sight loss
What causes glaucoma?
Typically, a clear liquid called aqueous humor hills the front part of the eye and flows out through a mesh-like channel. If this channel gets blocked, the pressure in the eye may increase and lead to loss of eyesight. Though the reason for this blockage is unknown, it may be inherited.
The blockage may also be caused by blunt or chemical injury to the eye, eye infection, blocked blood vessels inside the eyes, and inflammatory conditions. The pressure in the eye can also be caused by medications like corticosteroids or poor or restricted blood flow to the optic nerve.
Who is at the risk of developing glaucoma?
Glaucoma usually affects adults over 40, but sometimes infants can also have it. You are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma if –
- You are over 60. If you are African American, your higher risk begins at 40
- You are of African descent, Asian descent, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent
- Your parent or grandparent had open-angle glaucoma
- You have poor vision
- you have diabetes
- You have suffered injury or trauma to the eyes
- Take steroid medications like prednisone
People who are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma should get regular eye exams by an eye specialist to ensure early detection and prevention.
Natural remedies to prevent glaucoma
1. Eat food rich in carotenoids
We all know carrots and squash are good for eye health. It is the high levels of carotenoids present in these foods that make them great for the eyes. Foods that are rich in carotenoids are usually orange or yellow due to the pigment they contain. These foods include squash, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, apricot, pumpkin, and kale.
2. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help keep the eyes healthy. You can also puree them and make fresh juice or add them to smoothies.
3. Eat wild-caught fish
Eating fish like wild-caught salmon can improve eye health as it contains EPA/DHA fatty acids and astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant. The nutrients in fish help lower the intraocular pressure, which helps prevent nerve damage. Astaxanthin helps reduce the risk of cell death in the eyes and also helps regulate diabetes.
4. Brewer’s yeast
Brewer’s yeast is the by-product of the beer-making process. The chromium content of this yeast helps people with glaucoma.
Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, which can easily cross the blood-retina barrier and provide vision protection. They are also helpful to people with glaucoma. The anthocyanins in blueberry also help protect the eyes from UV light damage. Cherries, blackberries currant, and red grapes also contain anthocyanins.
6. Bilberry supplement
Bilberries are low-growing shrubs that bear dark blue colored berries. They contain vitamin C, phenolic acids, and anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants that improve eye health and vision. According to a study from Korea, when 332 people were treated with bilberry anthocyanins, it helped improve visual function in patients with normal-tension glaucoma (1). You can also take bilberry supplement s in the form of capsules or powders.
Cod liver oil contains vitamin A and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Vitamin A helps preserve normal vision and prevents oxidative damage that can lead to glaucoma. The omega-3 fatty acids in this oil decrease intraocular pressure, increase ocular blood flow and improve optic and neuroprotective function (2). According to a study from Australia, oral omega-3 supplementation for three months can reduce intraocular pressure (3).
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can help reverse pathological changes typical of glaucoma. This enzyme also has neuroprotective effects. According to a study published in Neural Regenerative Research, CoQ10 and vitamin E drops help protect the neuroretinal cells from oxidative damage. In this contest, coenzyme Q10, showing evidence in slowing or reversing pathological changes typical of the disease, has been proposed as a potential neuroprotective agent in glaucoma.
Studies have shown that magnesium supplements have the potential for the treatment of glaucoma. Magnesium improves blood flow by relaxing blood vessel walls. It also exhibits a neuroprotective role by inhibiting the release of glutamate and protecting the cells against oxidative stress and apoptosis.
10. Use essential oils
Certain essential oils can prevent glaucoma by promoting better circulation and lowering blood pressure and improving the health of eyes. You can’t apply the oils to the eyes directly. Just mix five drops of the essential oil with one tablespoon of coconut oil and apply to the cheeks under the eyes. Another way to use an essential oil is by diffusing them in the air. Some of the best oils for glaucoma prevention include –
- Frankincense oil – this oil improves circulation and improves vision.
- Cypress oil – This oil promotes better overall circulation.
- Sweet orange oil – this oil dilates blood vessels and promotes better circulation.
What to avoid?
In addition to taking these foods and supplements, you also need to avoid certain foods and beverages to prevent and improve the symptoms of glaucoma.
Alcohol can reduce eye pressure in the short term. However, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver toxicity, which can affect eye health. So avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Drinking coffee increases ocular pressure for a short time. While a cup or two during the day is fine, drinking more than five cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of developing glaucoma.
Consuming foods high in sugar can increase the risk of diabetes and glaucoma. If you have diabetes, you are at a higher risk of glaucoma.
4. Food allergens
People who have food allergies are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. Soy, wheat, corn, and dairy are some common food allergens.
Foods high in saturated fats can increase the risk of obesity. Studies have shown that obesity can increase the risk of glaucomatous injury.
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss. Although this condition is not curable, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent additional vision loss. Making a few simple changes to your lifestyle habits can reduce the risk and improve the symptoms of glaucoma. Fruits and vegetables, foods rich in carotenoids, fish, blueberries, and brewer’s yeast naturally lower the risk of glaucoma.
Bilberry supplements, magnesium, CoQ10, and cod liver oil are some beneficial supplements for glaucoma. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, saturated fats, and foods that are known to cause allergies. Though these natural remedies can lower your risk of glaucoma, you must consult with a healthcare provider to avoid permanent loss of vision.