Keep Glaucoma From Stealing Your Vision
Are you getting regular eye examinations? Eye exams are important for many reasons, not just for determining whether you need glasses or updating your vision prescription. They’re also the only way to detect glaucoma, which can cause irreversible vision loss. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), “Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals vision. There are typically no early warning signs or painful symptoms. It develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years.”
The GRF reports that more than 3 million people in America are living with some form of this disease. More than half of them don’t even know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the GRF, you’re at higher risk for getting glaucoma if you’re in one of the following groups:
- African Americans
- People over age 60
- Family members with glaucoma
- Hispanics over age 60
- Steroid users
- People with eye injuries
In addition, people who have type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure are at increased risk of getting this disease.
Glaucoma happens when the normal fluid in the front of our eye doesn’t drain properly, leading to pressure that can damage our optic nerve. The GRF explains that this nerve “acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.”
Sometimes glaucoma comes on quickly, with blurred vision, severe pain and redness of the eye, headache, and nausea. This type, called angle-closure glaucoma, is a serious medical emergency, and a person with these symptoms should seek treatment right away.
However, the most common type of glaucoma by far, called open-angle glaucoma, typically has no warning signs. The only way to diagnose it before vision is damaged is with a comprehensive eye exam. The exam is painless.
If glaucoma has already damaged the optic nerve, the resulting vision loss cannot be reversed. But prompt treatment can slow or prevent any further damage. Treatment may include medications (oral and/or eye drops), laser surgery, conventional surgery, and lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure under control, and giving up smoking.
Following your doctor’s recommendations, reporting medication side effects and having regular eye exams are the best ways to protect your vision for years to come. For more information, see consumer resources offered by the Glaucoma Research Foundation (www.glaucoma.org). The organization also offers a free 40-page booklet you can send for or download.