Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve (the visual pathway between the eye and the brain) that can cause permanent loss of vision that is often symptom free until the late stages. The vision loss typically occurs from the periphery moving inward in a slow and painless fashion. According to the American Optometric Association more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, (it is the second leading cause of blindness) – but only half know they have it.
There are several risk factors that can increase risk of developing glaucoma:
- Family History – if you have a parent, grandparent or sibling with glaucoma
- Age – people over age 60 (but it can occur at any age and is being diagnosed younger now than in previous generations due to the improvements in technology to detect earlier)
- Race – African Americans are more likely to get glaucoma and suffer permanent vision loss than are Caucasians
- History of Severe Injury to the Eye
- Steroid Use – topical or oral steroid use has risk for increasing eye pressure and contributing to risk of developing glaucoma
- Medical Conditions – Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease may increase risk
While glaucoma doesn’t have a cure and isn’t preventable, it is treatable and warning signs can be detected in a comprehensive eye exam provided by your optometrist. The key is to identify and diagnose the disease early in order to promptly treat and limit or slow the progression of vision loss. Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medication to lower pressure in the eyes. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be effective in lowering pressure.
If warning signs of glaucoma are identified at your comprehensive eye exam, other more specific tests for glaucoma are scheduled to make definitive diagnosis and provide a plan. These tests could include; visual fields to measure peripheral vision, OCT (optical coherence tomography) to measure thickness of the delicate tissue surrounding the optic nerve, gonioscopy to look at how fluid from the inside of the eye drains out, pachymetry to measure corneal thickness and optic nerve photography. A diagnosis of glaucoma is largely putting together these pieces of information to confirm a diagnosis. It is then valuable to have that information available as baseline to make reference to in the future to monitor for stability or progression.
If you haven’t had an eye exam in the last year, now is the time to schedule to ensure the current and future health of your eyes is the best it can be. In the case of glaucoma and many other problems, early detection and early treatment significantly improve the outcome.