If you or a loved one is among the 3 million Americans who have glaucoma, you know the basics. You know this vision disorder affects the optic nerve and, if untreated, can cause permanent vision loss. You also know the importance of regular vision exams and sticking with your treatment plan to prevent further damage.
So, rather than reviewing the basics, I am going to answer a few of the common questions I am asked about glaucoma.
Can You Drive With Glaucoma?
Most people with glaucoma have slight, if any, vision loss and can drive indefinitely. Unfortunately, a small minority have increasingly poor peripheral (side) vision—the type of impairment most often associated with glaucoma—and this most certainly affects driving. Poor night vision and glare are other complaints linked with glaucoma.
Discuss vision changes with your doctor, and if giving up driving is recommended, be smart about it. I understand if you are reluctant to have this discussion and the impact it may have on your independence. Nevertheless, safety—yours and others—should be your number-one concern.
Can a Pituitary Tumor Cause Glaucoma?
Your pituitary is a pea-sized gland located in your skull, below the brain and behind the eyes. Virtually all tumors in this gland, called pituitary adenomas, are non-cancerous and often cause no problems. If they grow large enough, however, they may impinge on the optic nerve and cause vision problems that resemble glaucoma.
Can Fibromyalgia Cause Glaucoma?
Fibromyalgia is still a poorly understood condition, but recent studies suggest neuroinflammation (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord) may be an underlying factor. Some researchers have also reported thinning of the optic nerve and other structures in the eyes with more severe cases of fibromyalgia. It is too early to say that fibromyalgia causes glaucoma, but there could be a relationship.
Can Stress Affect Glaucoma?
There are case reports in the medical literature of acute emotional stress increasing intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eyes, which is often elevated in patients with glaucoma. Although I am unaware of research suggesting that stress can cause glaucoma, unrelenting stress contributes to numerous physical problems and can exacerbate symptoms of existing glaucoma.
Can You Take Benadryl If You Have Glaucoma?
It depends on the type of glaucoma. More than 90% of patients have open-angle glaucoma, and for them, Benadryl and other antihistamines may be safely used. However, in individuals with a rarer type, called angle-closure glaucoma, antihistamines can provoke an acute attack. This happens when fluid is completely blocked from draining out of the eye and pressure builds up quickly, necessitating immediate treatment.
It is important to talk to your doctor about this—and to be aware that dozens of over-the-counter and prescription drugs for allergies, colds, and other conditions contain antihistamines.
What Is the Difference Between Diabetic Retinopathy & Glaucoma?
Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes marked by damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, also located in the back of the eye, that relays visual information from the retina to the brain.
There is, however, a link between the two. Diabetic retinopathy nearly doubles your risk of developing glaucoma. That’s because progressive retinopathy is often accompanied by abnormal blood vessel growth that can block fluid drainage, increase pressure in the eye, and damage the optic nerve. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent vision loss with both conditions.
Does Glaucoma Cause Macular Degeneration?
No. Macular degeneration affects the macula, an area in the center of the retina responsible for central vision while glaucoma affects the optic nerve and may cause peripheral vision loss. Although having both conditions may result in greater vision impairment, neither condition causes nor worsens the other.
Can Glaucoma Cause Headaches?
The more common open-angle glaucoma doesn’t usually cause headaches. A sudden severe headache, along with vision changes and perhaps nausea and vomiting, could be symptoms of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack and should be treated at once.
What Is the Difference Between Glaucoma & a Cataract?
These two conditions don’t have much in common other than that both are increasingly common with age. A cataract is a clouding of the lens, the transparent structure in the front of the eye that helps focus light onto the retina. Glaucoma, as you know, affects the optic nerve. Cataract surgery to replace a cloudy lens with a new one restores visual clarity, but glaucoma-related vision loss is irreversible.
What Foods Should You Avoid If You Have Glaucoma?
Some small studies suggest that drinking a lot of coffee, especially in a short period of time, elevates eye pressure in patients with glaucoma, so you may want to go easy on the coffee. A large government-sponsored nutrition survey also found that people who eat the most omega-6 fats—found in most vegetable oils and many processed foods—are more likely to develop glaucoma.
More importantly, what foods should you eat? In that same nutrition survey, a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish was linked with a reduced risk of glaucoma. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens and other foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, also support eye health.
Do Any Supplements Help Glaucoma?
Although the bulk of the nutritional research on eye health has focused on macular degeneration, there is ample evidence to recommend the following supplements for anyone who has glaucoma or is at risk of developing it.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: In a clinical trial conducted in Australia, study participants who took supplemental fish oil for three months had significant reductions in eye pressures. Suggested dose: 1,000–2,000 mg of EPA/DHA daily.
- Mirtogenol: This extract of bilberry and Pycnogenol has been demonstrated to reduce ocular pressures on its own—and to boost the efficacy of glaucoma eye drops. Suggested dose: 120 mg daily.
- Lutein & zeaxanthin: These carotenoids, which are included in many vision supplements, are routinely recommended for older people, even by conventional doctors. Suggested dose: 20–40 mg lutein and 2–4 mg zeaxanthin daily.
- Antioxidants: Oxidative stress is a factor in nerve degeneration, and vitamins A and C in particular have been associated with a reduced risk of glaucoma. Take a daily multivitamin with robust levels of these and other antioxidants.