Glaucoma Steals Sight Without Warning
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to slow the
progression of glaucoma and preserve vision.
S. knew that to maintain healthy teeth, he needed to brush them twice a
day and visit his dentist regularly, which he did. But George didn’t
realize that regular eye exams are just as important to preserving one’s
eye health—until he developed glaucoma.
Up until then, the only
time George had visited his eye doctor was when his vision had changed and
he needed a new contact lens prescription. He was unaware of the disease
that was slowly stealing his sight because his vision was fine. There are
no symptoms in glaucoma’s earliest stages. By the time George developed
symptoms and visited his eye doctor, he had lost 70 percent of his eyesight
That’s why glaucoma is called the “silent thief of
sight.” And that’s why regular eye exams—like regular dental check-ups—are
critical to maintain health.
Early diagnosis and treatment are
essential to slow the progression of glaucoma and preserve vision.
Prevent Blindness America has designated January as Glaucoma Awareness
Month to emphasize the importance of getting regular comprehensive eye
exams to check for glaucoma. This sight-stealing disease currently affects
more than 4 million Americans. Only half have been diagnosed. Delayed
diagnosis and treatment have made glaucoma the second leading cause of
blindness in the U.S.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye
disorders that cause gradual damage to the optic nerve, a bundle of more than
1 million nerve fibers that send images from the eye to the brain. A
healthy optic nerve is necessary for good vision.
The most common
form of the disease, primary open-angle glaucoma, is associated with
increased eye pressure, which can slowly damage the optic nerve. This eye
pressure results from excessive fluid build-up in the front of the eye. A
clear liquid flows continuously in and out of a space called the anterior
chamber to nourish nearby tissues. When the drainage system is not working
properly, fluid cannot leave the eye. As it builds up, so does eye
Who Gets Glaucoma?
Glaucoma can affect
anyone regardless of age or ethnic background. Three groups, however, are
particularly at risk: those with a family history of glaucoma, African
Americans over age 40 and everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics.
The number of Americans with glaucoma is growing because of several trends
that have increased the sizes of the major risk groups:
population: The Baby Boom generation is entering retirement age.
- Growth of African American and Hispanic populations: Glaucoma is five
times more common among African Americans and Hispanics than among
- Ongoing obesity epidemic: Obesity accounts for the
rising number of people with diabetes, who are twice as likely to develop
glaucoma as those without diabetes.
Can Glaucoma Be Prevented?
Although there is no known way to prevent glaucoma,
you can lower your risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This means
controlling your blood pressure and weight through diet and exercise.
Controlling weight and blood pressure is important to prevent insulin
resistance, a pre-diabetes condition in which your body does not use insulin
properly. Insulin resistance is linked to elevated eye pressure.
well known that regular aerobic exercise can help to lower blood pressure
and maintain a healthy weight. Some studies indicate that it can also lower
What Are Symptoms of Glaucoma?
With primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common
type, damage to the optic nerve is so gradual that there are no symptoms at
first. When symptoms do appear, it is usually loss of peripheral vision.
You are able to see straight ahead, but miss objects to the side, as if
you were looking through a tunnel. If glaucoma is left untreated, serious
vision loss may occur in both eyes. Over time, straight-ahead vision may
diminish until none remains.
A less common form of the disease is
acute angle-closure glaucoma. It occurs suddenly as the result of a rapid
increase in eye pressure. Symptoms include severe eye pain, nausea, eye
redness, seeing colored halos around lights and blurred vision. This
condition is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment, as
blindness can occur in just one or two days. Treatment is either medication
or surgery to allow fluid to drain out of the eye.
How Is Glaucoma Diagnosed?
diagnosed during a comprehensive eye exam. Your doctor will perform several
different tests to look for eye problems and for changes in your eyes since
your last exam:
- Dilated eye exam. After drops are placed in your
eyes to dilate (widen) them, a magnifying lens is used to examine your
retina and optic nerve.
- Visual acuity test. An eye chart test
measures how well you see at various distances.
- Visual field test.
Measures your peripheral (side) vision.
- Tonometry. Measures the
pressure inside the eye.
- Pachymetry. Measures the thickness of the
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
Several medications, including eye drops and pills, treat glaucoma by reducing pressure in the eye. If the medicine does not sufficiently lower pressure, surgery may be the answer.
The goal of surgery is to repair the eye’s drainage system by decreasing fluid build-up, which relieves eye pressure. The surgeon creates a hole through which fluid can drain out of the eye, or inserts a valve to facilitate drainage.
If glaucoma is detected and treated early enough, many patients are able to retain their eyesight for the rest of their lives, as long as they continue treatment. Medication and surgery in glaucoma’s early stages can slow its progression. Vision that has already been lost, however, cannot be restored.
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Sources: American Optometric Association,
National Eye Institute, Prevent Blindness America, Mayo Clinic, Prevention,