Have you ever wondered why your optometrist wants to check you each year for glaucoma? There’s a very good reason! Glaucoma has been called the “silent thief of sight” because vision loss can happen gradually over time and often without any symptoms. Worldwide it is the second leading cause of vision loss behind cataracts; it is the number one cause of vision loss in African Americans.
So, what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a term used to describe damage to the optic nerve – the nerve that makes it possible for you to see. The main cause of damage is from excess fluid in the eye that is not draining properly. This causes pressure on the eye and eventually damages the optic nerve fibers. When this pressure is building and doing damage, often there are no symptoms. Any symptoms that you have because of glaucoma might mean damage has been done. Some of the symptoms might be severe pain in your eyes or frequent migraines, blurred vision, seeing halos or rainbows, and nausea or vomiting. If you have these symptoms, see an ophthalmologist immediately.
Because people can have glaucoma without knowing it, you should be aware of factors that put you at risk. Some of these are: being over 40, having family members who have glaucoma, African Americans, Asians, or Hispanics. Other risks include any kind of eye injury or weakness and health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, poor circulation, and high eye pressure.
If you have one or more risk factors – especially a family history — you should make an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. There are several tests that can be used to determine your eye health. First, the doctor will test your eye pressure. This might be done by numbing your eye with drops, then measuring how your cornea resists pressure. A high pressure reading is often the first sign of glaucoma.
Other tests that might be performed include an inspection of your eye’s drainage angle and inspecting your optic nerve by magnifying the interior of the eye. Another test is to measure the thickness of your cornea using a pachymeter. This is placed on the eye and measures the cornea; a very thin cornea is an indicator for glaucoma.
If it is determined that you have glaucoma, there is hope. Many treatments are available to help stop further nerve damage. The first is eye drops. Medicated eye drops either reduce the amount of fluid created in the eye or help the fluid flow out of the eye.
Some patients require surgery. There are several different kinds of surgeries which are relatively quick outpatient procedures that will help your eye drain properly.
Glaucoma is a chronic disease that can be helped with prevention and treatment. The key to successful management of glaucoma is to have your eyes examined at least once a year and more frequently if your ophthalmologist determines you are at high risk. Don’t take chances with your eyes. Glaucoma can be treated effectively if caught early.