By Shoshana Nock, O.D.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, in part because too many people still don’t know much about it. Many who thought of glaucoma as an old person’s disease were surprised to be diagnosed with it in their mid-30s and 40s. Although certain factors like age and heredity can increase your chances of developing glaucoma, the fact is glaucoma can affect anyone, anywhere and at any age. The majority of glaucoma patients don’t experience any symptoms before irreversible harm has been done, which is why regular glaucoma screenings are vitally important.
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the optic nerve becomes damaged, usually as a result of increased pressure in the eye. This damaging of the optic nerve ultimately causes a gradual but serious loss of vision. Untreated, glaucoma often results in complete blindness. It’s commonly referred to as a silent thief of sight because there are no symptoms in its early stages.
It’s possible to have low pressures and have glaucoma or high pressures and not have it; eye pressure is only one aspect of the disease. For instance, certain risk factors may increase your chances of contracting the disease. Or you could injure your eye and develop it. Some babies are even born with it.
It’s important to note the exact cause of glaucoma is unknown, and, while it can be treated, it can’t be cured.
These Factors May Increase Your Risk
- People over age 60 are at increased risk for the disease.
- African Americans are at increased risk after age 40.
- People of Asian, Hispanic, Inuit, Irish, Russian, or Scandinavian descent also have a higher risk.
- A family history of glaucoma increases the risk of developing glaucoma.
- Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease may up the risk of developing glaucoma.
- Severe trauma to the eye can result in immediate increased eye pressure or dislocate the lens and increase pressure.
- Other eye conditions such as retinal detachment, eye tumors, eye inflammations, and severe nearsightedness may also trigger glaucoma.
How Glaucoma Is Diagnosed
A complete eye exam is the only way to determine whether you have glaucoma. Just checking eye pressure isn’t enough. A thorough glaucoma check involves examining your eye’s drainage angle, checking the optic nerve for signs of damage, testing peripheral vision, measuring the thickness of the cornea, performing a computer measurement of the optic nerve, and assessing eye pressure.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor right away:
- Vision loss
- Redness in the eye
- Blurred vision
- Eye pain
- Seeing halos around light sources
- Tunnel vision
How It’s Treated
Your doctor has several treatment options depending on the severity and progression of your glaucoma. Prescription eye drops, pills, laser surgery, or microsurgery are common treatment plans for people diagnosed with glaucoma.
Eye drops and pills, obviously the least invasive options for treatment, are administered to lessen the production of fluid in your eye. They can have side effects and interact negatively with other medication, so be sure to tell your doctor exactly what medicines you’re taking. Often, your doctor will try medications before surgery. If it is determined that your condition requires laser surgery or more traditional surgery, your doctor will discuss which type he or she feels is best for you. While glaucoma damage can’t be reversed, further damage can be stopped with medication, surgery, and regular visits to your eye doctor.
Dr. Nock is an optometrist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic. Her clinical interests include glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. She has extensive experience in the diagnosis and treatment of ocular disease.