It often strikes without warning. Until you notice a difficulty with your eyesight, you may have no idea you are dealing with Glaucoma.
It's often called “the sneak thief of sight” because people who have the disease do not see or feel anything unusual until there is irreversible nerve damage and vision loss, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. The foundation reports that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but half of those people do not know they have the disease. Those people risk vision impairment or blindness.
If left untreated, glaucoma will eventually cause blindness. Even with treatment, about 15 percent of people with glaucoma become blind in at least one eye within 20 years.
Anyone can get glaucoma - even children - but some groups are at high risk. African Americans, diabetics, people over 60, those with a family history of glaucoma and severely nearsighted people are most likely to get glaucoma. But even if you or someone you know has none of these risk factors, glaucoma is still possible.
The best prevention is a regular eye doctor’s eye exam that can detect the disease and, if caught in time, mitigate the disease.
What Happens Without Regular Eye Exams?
- Since glaucoma causes no pain, and people have no visual problems in the early stages, it can go undetected until too late. Only a doctor can tell if a person has glaucoma.
- Glaucoma is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time.
- If a person does not get a regular eye exam and glaucoma goes undiagnosed and untreated, then as it gets worse, high pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve.
- The undetected damage that impairs vision cannot be reversed.
- Vision loss begins around the edges of the visual field. Eventually, a person’s central vision will become blurry, and then the person will go blind.
What Happens With Regular Eye Exams?
- If a doctor catches it early, the disease is highly treatable. Optometrists screen all patients for glaucoma during routine eye exams.
- People with a family history of glaucoma also should see an ophthalmologist who treats the disease for a full evaluation of the optic nerve.
- Once glaucoma is diagnosed, doctors and patients work together to control the pressure and prevent nerve damage and vision loss.
- A doctor determines the best options, which can include eye drop medications, laser treatment, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) implants, and traditional glaucoma surgeries.
- If someone sees a doctor after nerve damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed, but it may be possible to prevent additional damage.
Make sure you and your family and friends have regular eye exams. Exams are the only detection for glaucoma, and early detection and treatment of glaucoma are the only ways to prevent vision loss from this disease.
What are the Risk Factors?
Because chronic forms of glaucoma can destroy vision before any signs or symptoms are apparent, be aware of these risk factors:
- Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over age 60
- Being black, Asian or Hispanic
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and sickle cell anemia
- Having corneas that are thin in the center
- Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
- Having had an eye injury or certain types of eye surgery
- Taking corticosteroid medications, especially eyedrops, for a long time
What are the Ways to Help Prevent Glaucoma?
- Get regular dilated eye examinations. Regular comprehensive eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages, before significant damage occurs.
- The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every five to 10 years if you're under 40 years old; every two to four years if you're 40 to 54 years old; every one to three years if you're 55 to 64 years old; and every one to two years if you're older than 65. If you're at risk of glaucoma, you'll need more frequent screening. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.
- Know your family's eye health history. Glaucoma tends to run in families. If you're at increased risk, you may need more frequent screening.
- Exercise safely. Regular, moderate exercise may help prevent glaucoma by reducing eye pressure. Talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise program.
- Take prescribed eyedrops regularly. Glaucoma eyedrops can significantly reduce the risk that high eye pressure will progress to glaucoma. To be effective, eyedrops prescribed by your doctor need to be used regularly even if you have no symptoms.
- Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wear eye protection when using power tools or playing high-speed racket sports in enclosed courts.
Make sure you and your family and friends have regular eye exams. Schedule your exam with VisionQuest today.