Every year you make a list of things you will do to stay healthy in the New Year, so you can feel your best. Most of us do not often think that feeling your best includes seeing your best, too.
“Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss by damaging the optic nerve, located in the back of your eye,” said David A. Faris, MD, ophthalmologist at UHC Ophthalmology. “This nerve acts like an electric cable with more than a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.”
There is no cure for glaucoma, but early treatment can often stop the damage and protect your vision. The symptoms can start so slowly that you may not notice the signs. The only way to find out if you have glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
There are many different types of glaucoma, but the most common type in the United States is called open-angle glaucoma — that is what most people mean when they talk about the disease. Other types are less common, like angle-closure glaucoma and congenital glaucoma.
“Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world,” said Dr. Faris. “Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost.”
At first, glaucoma does not usually have any symptoms. That is why half of people with this disease do not even know they have it.
Over time, you may slowly lose vision, usually starting with your side (peripheral) vision — especially the part of your vision that is closest to your nose. Because it happens so slowly, many people cannot tell their vision is changing, especially at first.
However, as the disease gets worse, you may start to notice that you cannot see things off to the side anymore. Without treatment, glaucoma can eventually cause blindness.
“Those at higher risk include people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. Other high-risk groups include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent,” said Dr. Faris. “Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for glaucoma, and may help to prevent unnecessary vision loss.”
Talk with your doctor about your risk for glaucoma, and ask how often you need an eye exam.
Angle-closure glaucoma can cause these sudden symptoms:
- Intense eye pain
- Upset stomach (nausea)
- Red eye
- Blurry vision
If you have these symptoms, go to your doctor or an emergency room now.
Scientists are not sure what causes the most common types of glaucoma, but many people with glaucoma have high eye pressure (intraocular pressure) — and treatments that lower eye pressure help to slow the progression of the disease.
There is no way to prevent glaucoma. That is why eye exams are so important — so you and your doctor can find it before it affects your vision.
Eye doctors can check for glaucoma as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless — your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then check your eyes for glaucoma and other eye problems. The exam includes a visual field test to check your peripheral (side) vision.
Glaucoma can happen in one eye or both eyes. Some people with high eye pressure do not get glaucoma — and there is a type of glaucoma that happens in people with normal eye pressure. The amount of eye pressure that is normal varies by person — what is normal for one person could be high for another.
Doctors use a few different types of treatment for glaucoma, including medicines (usually eye drops), laser treatment, and surgery.
If you have glaucoma, it is important to start treatment right away. While it will not restore any damage to your vision, treatment can stop it from getting worse.
Medicines. Prescription eye drops are the most common treatment. These lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to your optic nerve.
Laser treatment. To lower pressure in your eye, doctors can use lasers to help the fluid drain out of your eye. Your doctor can do this simple procedure in the office.
Surgery. If medicines and laser treatment do not work, your doctor might suggest surgery. To help fluid drain out of the eye, doctors will use several types of surgery.
“There is good news on the horizon,” said Dr. Faris. “With medication or surgery, we can slow or prevent further vision loss.”
Talk over your options with your doctor. While glaucoma is a serious disease, treatment works well. Remember these tips:
- If your doctor prescribes medicine, be sure to take it every day
- Encourage family members to get checked for glaucoma, since it can run in families
- Tell your doctor if your treatment causes side effects
- See your doctor for regular check-ups
- If you are having trouble with everyday activities due to your vision loss, ask your doctor about low vision services or devices that could help
The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma, among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.
Scientists are studying what causes glaucoma and how we can find it earlier and treat it better. The National Eye Institute is continually funding research on new treatment options.
“Now that you have the facts about glaucoma, I hope you will make a resolution for healthier vision,” said Dr. Faris. “Schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam today.” If you would like more information, contact David A. Faris, MD, at UHC Ophthalmology, (681) 342-4525. UHC Ophthalmology’s new office is located at 1370 Johnson Avenue in Bridgeport.
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