Before you notice anything is wrong, glaucoma can steal nearly half of your vision. Most of the time, there are no symptoms to alert you as permanent losses slowly accumulate. It’s estimated that over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and only about half of them know it. While glaucoma has no cure, treatment can slow it down. That’s why if you or your loved ones are at risk, early detection is critical to preserving your sight.
What Causes Glaucoma?
Your eyes constantly produce a special fluid that supplies nutrients and then drains into the body. Glaucoma occurs when the drainage tunnels responsible for removing fluid from the eye become narrowed or blocked. As fluid struggles to escape the eye, pressure builds up. That pressure gradually damages your optic nerve, resulting in permanent vision loss.
All types of glaucoma can steal your vision, but some forms are more dangerous than others. Narrow-angle glaucoma occurs when your iris gets pushed or pulled forward, resulting in blocked drainage. Similarly, angle-closure glaucoma occurs when drainage becomes closed rather than slowed. These types of glaucoma produce symptoms like headaches, blurred vision, eye pain, nausea, and vomiting. Because portions of your vision become lost in a few hours, both types are medical emergencies that need immediate treatment.
Who’s at Risk for Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a chronic condition that requires lifelong management. Medication or surgical techniques are highly effective at slowing down loss of vision. Faster diagnosis and treatment means less damage to your vision.
The people most at risk include diabetics, the very nearsighted, anyone with a family history of glaucoma, and people over the age of 60. Latinos, African Americans, and people with Japanese ancestry are also far more likely to develop glaucoma. If you’re part of one of these at-risk groups, the CDC recommends having a dilated eye exam every 2 years, starting at age 40. Due to their increased risk, diabetics should seek an annual exam.
Testing for Glaucoma
Beyond eye exams, doctors have many tests to diagnose glaucoma. The three most common are a pachymetry, perimetry, and gonioscopy. A pachymetry test looks for the formation of glaucoma by measuring the thickness of your cornea with ultrasonic waves. A perimetry test maps your visual field to see if you have any blind spots developing. Finally, a gonioscopy places a mirror on your eye to help a physician see your drainage tunnels. The tests are all relatively painless and essential to finding out if you have one of the more severe types of glaucoma.
Is Glaucoma Treatable?
Most glaucoma can be managed with medication, some of which are as simple as taking eye drops. When medications aren’t working or the glaucoma is severe, doctors use a procedure called selective laser trabeculoplasty to open up an eye’s drainage. Where lasers can’t be used or are ineffective, surgery can help create drainage by removing a piece of tissue from the eye or installing a mini-shunt about the size of a grain of rice.
What does glaucoma feel like? Glaucoma is the dreadful realization you’ve lost a part of your vision forever. If you’re not doubled-over in pain, it’s easy to procrastinate going to the doctor. Every year, countless people will suffer preventable vision loss. National glaucoma awareness month is your chance to tell your loved ones about the danger of glaucoma and help ensure they won’t join the ranks of the blind.