Ask Dr. Dave: All About Glaucoma
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month
Glaucoma is an eye disease that affects 3 million Americans. It's estimated nearly 1.5 million Americans aren't aware that they have the disease. Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of fluid in the eye. This causes internal pressure, which damages the optic nerve and can result in vision loss.
TFEC: How does an eye exam check for Glaucoma?
Dr. Dave: As part of a comprehensive eye examination, there are actually multiple tests that are performed, which help to determine whether a person might have glaucoma. Most people think of the eye pressure test (air puff or blue light test). However, eye pressure alone doesn't tell the story. Someone can have high eye pressures (ocular hypertension) and never go on to develop glaucoma. On the other hand, someone else can develop glaucoma, even while having normal eye pressures (normal-tension glaucoma).
Ultimately, glaucoma is when a person's optic nerves start to show specific progressive damage, regardless of whether or not the eye pressures are significantly elevated. This damage goes on to produce vision loss, and possible blindness. In addition to eye pressure testing, a dilated eye examination allows the doctor to see whether the optic nerves are damaged. Also, peripheral vision testing screens for any glaucoma-related vision loss.
TFEC: Will I see symptoms of Glaucoma or is it a "Silent Disease"?
Dr. Dave: When we think of "glaucoma," in most cases we're referring to what's known, generally, as "open angle" or "primary" glaucoma. Open angle glaucoma is definitely a "silent" or asymptomatic disease in most cases. It is often called the "sneak thief of sight." That's why regular eye examination are so important. Open angle glaucoma is painless. So without routine monitoring, the disease may not be detected until significant vision loss has already occurred. It is worth noting that another type of glaucoma--known as closed angle glaucoma--also exists. This different type of glaucoma may be associated with eye pain, halos, blurred vision or even nausea.
TFEC: What can I do to prevent my risk of Glaucoma?
Dr. Dave: Unfortunately, you cannot completely eliminate the risk of glaucoma. Genetics and aging are risk factors that are out of our control. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can lower risk to some extent. The same things that improve cardiovascular health also help to promote good eye health. The best way to reduce the risk of sustaining vision loss from glaucoma is to have an annual eye examination with an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist.
TFEC: If I have Glaucoma, do I need to see a specialist?
Dr. Dave: Maybe. Glaucoma can often be treated by a patient's primary Optometrist or Ophthalmologist. However, in more complicated cases, the primary eye care doctor may recommend a referral to glaucoma specialist. This depends on several factors, including the severity of the disease and whether or not surgery may be needed.
TFEC: What happens if Glaucoma goes untreated?
Dr. Dave: If glaucoma goes untreated, optic nerve damage will progress over time--in some cases slowly, and in some much more rapidly. If left unchecked, this progressive damage results in painless vision loss and eventual blindness.
TFEC: Is there anything else I need to know about Glaucoma?
Dr. Dave: In most cases, glaucoma can be managed by one or more eye drops, used on a daily basis. These drops are used to lower the eye pressures to a level that reduces the risk of optic nerve damage. This can be thought of in much the same way as using high blood pressure medication to lower risk of heart damage or stroke. In cases that cannot be adequately controlled with eye drops alone, laser treatment or other surgeries might be necessary. With proper treatment, vision loss from glaucoma is largely preventable.
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