Glaucoma: A Better Understanding of This Elusive Disease

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A commonly misunderstood condition, glaucoma is not just one disease but a series of diseases that damage the optic nerve in the back of the eye. The most common type is primary open angle glaucoma, which mostly occurs in people over the age of 50, develops gradually, and has no pain or symptoms in the early stages. With this type of glaucoma, fluid builds up in the eye causing high eye pressure and damage to the optic nerve. The result is gradual loss of vision, starting with side (peripheral) vision. If left untreated, blindness eventually occurs.

Of the four million Americans who currently have glaucoma, only about half are aware of it. It is also the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old. And although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled, and the risk of severe vision loss is reduced if detected early.

Since there are no symptoms, the best method of detection is an annual dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist. John A. Waters, MD is an ophthalmologist with over 25 years of experience treating glaucoma.

Dr. Waters explains, “During the exam, I look at the shape and size of the optic nerve, have patients perform a side vision test, and take scans of the nerves that can be compared each year to determine changes. The advantage of the newer technology is that it can detect glaucoma even before there has been any vision loss. This is important because once a person loses vision from glaucoma, the vision cannot be restored. The goal is to start early treatment and preserve vision for a lifetime.”

The most common glaucoma treatments include eye drops, laser surgery performed in the office, and minimally invasive surgery done in a surgery center. Patients are encouraged to discuss a treatment option that might work best for their lifestyle.

“For some, it may be difficult to remember to use eye drops daily and the cost might be too high,” Dr. Waters continues. “In these cases, laser treatment is a good option. For others who are having cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery can be done at the same time, making it a convenient and effective option.”

While glaucoma is a complex and elusive set of diseases, there are excellent early detection tests available currently, and a variety of new and effective treatment options to fit each person’s lifestyle. Take the “Glaucoma Risk Assessment” and don’t let glaucoma sneak up on you!

5 Common Myths About Glaucoma:

1. There is only one type of glaucoma.

In fact, there are many types: Primary Open Angle, Low Tension and Angle Closure are just a few. Each requires a specific type of treatment plan.

2. High eye pressure means I have glaucoma.

High pressure is only one indication of glaucoma. Each person has a unique “normal” range of eye pressure depending on the type of glaucoma. What might be considered high pressure for one glaucoma patient might be normal pressure for another.

3. Only older people get glaucoma.

Actually, even infants can get glaucoma, but it is most common in people over 50 years old.

4. Glaucoma can be cured.

Unfortunately, it cannot; but treatment can control the disease and help preserve vision.

5. Once a person has glaucoma, there isn’t much that can be done for it.

In fact, the person’s lifestyle is very important to successfully managing glaucoma. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco are three very important ways patients can help control glaucoma.

Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled, and the risk of severe vision loss is reduced if detected early.

Take the Glaucoma Risk Assessment

  1. Are you 50 years or older? Yes No
  2. Do any of your parents or siblings have glaucoma? Yes No
  3. Have you ever been told you have high eye pressure? Yes No
  4. Do you have diabetes? Yes No
  5. Do you have high blood pressure? Yes No
  6. Are you extremely nearsighted? Yes No
  7. When was your last dilated eye exam? ______________________________

If you answered “yes” to any of these and haven’t had a dilated eye exam in the past year, you may be at risk for glaucoma.

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