Anyone from babies to senior citizens can be at risk for developing glaucoma. Without initial treatment, glaucoma can cause permanent blindness. The good news is, while glaucoma can’t be cured, early treatment can control it.
What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which carries vision from the eye to the brain, caused by pressure inside the eye which is high enough to harm nerve fibers and damage vision.
As many as three million Americans have glaucoma, and many people who have glaucoma don’t notice any symptoms until they start to lose some of their eyesight. This disease damages peripheral or side vision in a gradual, insidious way, usually over years before you even know there’s a problem. Glaucoma doesn’t cause pain in most cases, and because it damages side vision years before straight-ahead vision, people usually have no symptoms.
A complete eye exam includes a measurement of your eye pressure, as well as a detailed look at the optic nerve through dilated pupils. The dilated exam of the nerve is every bit as important as the eye-pressure measurement, as many people have nerve damage even in the face of seemingly normal pressures. If your eye doctor is suspicious you might have glaucoma, you may be asked to do a visual field. This office test involves looking for dots of light on a computer screen so that a detailed map of your central and peripheral vision can be mapped. The diagnosis is typically made based on the measurement of pressure, optic nerve appearance and visual field analysis.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, what are the next steps? Most people with glaucoma are treated with various eye drops designed to lower eye pressure and thus prevent progression of the disease. Laser may also be used to lower pressure, and in a small number of cases, surgery may be required for pressure control. Although glaucoma is common, with treatment, most people can lead normal lives without debilitating vision loss.
Why are annual eye exams so important? Adults over 40 should have dilated exams every 2-4 years and more often with each additional decade of life. Those with glaucoma risk factors, including high eye pressure, suspicious optic nerve appearance and family history, may need more frequent assessments as determined by their eye doctor.
This week’s Health Talk column was written by Dr. Ryan W. Rogers, board-certified ophthalmologist at Marble Valley Eye Care, a department of Rutland Regional Medical Center. For more information, contact Marble Valley Eye Care at 802-773-8328 or visit www.rrmc.org/services/eye-care/.