Look to the Future: Get an Eye Exam to Save Your Vision from Glaucoma
Over 3 million Americans, and over 60 million people worldwide, have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. Combined with our aging population, we can see an epidemic of blindness looming if we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma. Are you one of them? You owe it to yourself to find out by getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam that includes having drops put in your eye. With its painless and gradual loss of vision, glaucoma may have no early warning signs, but it can be detected during a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
Glaucoma is called "the sneak thief of sight" since there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it's permanent. As much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Moreover, among African American and Latino populations, glaucoma is more prevalent. Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.
Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.
There is no cure for glaucoma—yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.
Anyone can get glaucoma, but those at higher risk include:
- African Americans over age 40
- Everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics/Latinos
- People with a family history of the disease
Types of Glaucoma
There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, this is called normal tension glaucoma.
Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.
Regular Eye Exams are Important
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. In the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost.
During a comprehensive dilated eye exam, an eye care professional can see inside the eye to detect signs of glaucoma, such as subtle changes to the optic nerve, before any symptoms appear. This allows the eye care professional to determine if you have glaucoma or are at risk for it, to monitor your condition, to treat glaucoma as early as possible, and to look for other vision problems. Once symptoms appear, it may be too late to prevent vision loss and the progression to blindness.
If glaucoma is detected early, treatments such as eye drops or surgery can slow or stop vision loss. High pressure inside the eye, which may be associated with glaucoma, does not by itself mean that you have glaucoma. Only a comprehensive dilated eye exam and evaluation of the optic nerve by an eye care professional can tell you that.