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Glaucoma Awareness and Prevention

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According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, which is an important time of the year to spread the word about this “silent thief” of sight. Responsible for over four million cases of blindness worldwide, over three million Americans are afflicted with this disease, while sixty million globally have glaucoma.

Left untreated, glaucoma can rob a person of up to 40% of their irreplaceable eyesight before a person is even aware they have the disease. While there is no known cure, there are treatment options available and while many people believe that glaucoma mostly strikes the elderly, people of all ages are at risk.

Genetics and Descent

It’s believed that, as with many forms of eye disease, glaucoma can be hereditary, so if you have a family history of this condition, you should consider yourself at a higher risk. Glaucoma is also more prevalent in those of African and Hispanic descent according to the GRF, when compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

Asians are also more susceptible to glaucoma simply due to the general makeup of their eyes themselves. One of the most aggressive forms of this disease, PACG (or primary angle-closure glaucoma) accounts for up to 90% of blindness throughout all of China, the largest population in the world.

Health and Welfare

A healthy lifestyle is also believed to contribute to the prevention of many eye issues including glaucoma. For example, smoking leads to high blood pressure (or hypertension) and unhealthy eating habits puts people at a greater risk for diabetes, which are both linked to eye problems and diseases like glaucoma.

Speaking of smoking, many people believe that natural remedies like marijuana can be used to treat glaucoma, but some experts disagree. While THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana lowers pressure to the eye caused by glaucoma, it only offers temporary relief and should not be used to actually treat the condition itself.

More Problems with THC

Since smoking causes damage to the lungs, some will administer this remedy orally to achieve the same results, but there are still hazards to this practice. Drowsiness and a loss of judgment caused by marijuana can be problematic for some users. One study found that nine out of nine participants with advanced glaucoma who were taking THC in pill form, discontinued use after nine months due to side effects. Experiments with eye drops containing tetrahydrocannabinol have been investigated, but so far, introducing a sufficient concentration of THC into the eyes has not been found to be effective.

Photo by Fotolia

The Jury is Still Out

While the debate on the use of medicinal marijuana continues to rage, benefits versus risks, some doctors believe there is a lack of evidence to support the fact that it actually alters the course of the disease itself. A type of catch-22 situation also exists with the use of pot when offering temporary relief from glaucoma conditions.

As mentioned previously, while THC reduced pressure to the eyes, it also lowers blood pressure, which results in a lower amount of blood flow to the optic nerve. This reduction of blood supply could conceivably cause further damage and make conditions of glaucoma, including vision loss, even worse. Given its side effects and short-duration of relief, while doctors may (or may not) shy away from the use of marijuana in glaucoma patients, it is up to each individual to choose what they believe is appropriate.