What you need to know about Glaucoma

January is National Glaucoma month and nearly 3 million Americans suffer from Glaucoma although nearly half of them don’t know they have it. Until you get to the advanced stages there are no symptoms of this dreadful and irreversible eye disease, but early detection and treatments can preserve vision.  

What is Glaucoma? 

Glaucoma causes fluid to build up in your eye that in turn causes pressure that can damage the optic nerve – the critical pathway which transfers visual images to your brain.  If the optic nerve is damaged your vision will be lessened or you will suffer from complete blindness. Vision loss in the most prevalent form – “primary open angle glaucoma” – is slow and progressive, typically affecting side vision first and ultimately, central vision as well.  

 Unfortunately, there are no early symptoms, warning signs, pain, discomfort, or even blurry vision.  Only advanced Glaucoma causes loss of vision or blindness. The good news is you can prevent Glaucoma through early detection.  During your annual or bi-annual eye exam, request a comprehensive dilation exam during which an eye care professional places drops in your eyes that widen the pupils allowing them to see signs of stress/disease in the optic nerve.  Your eyes will be very sensitive to light for several hours after the exam – so your doctor will often send you home with sunglasses to protect your eyes.   

 Who’s at Risk? 

Although anyone can get Glaucoma, African Americans over 40, adults over 60 – especially Hispanics/Latinos and those with a family history of the disease are at a higher risk.  Diabetics also run a high risk of developing Glaucoma and it’s often referred to as the “Diabetic Eye Disease”. 

 Is Glaucoma Preventable? 

 In most cases the disease is not preventable – but according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, early detection and lifelong treatment can preserve vision in most people.  Medications will help control the pressure on the optic nerve by reducing the intraocular pressure and in some cases, surgery may be used as well. Every case and patient are different so individual disease management protocols are required.  

 Glaucoma checks should be done: 

  • before age 40, every two to four years
  • from age 40 to age 54, every one to three years
  • from age 55 to 64, every one to two years
  • after age 65, every six to 12 months

If you are in a high-risk category, it’s recommended that you get tested yearly after the age of 35. 

 What about lifestyle changes? 

 As diabetics are one of the high-risk groups – lifestyle does play a huge factor in preventing Glaucoma!  Reduce your chances at getting Type 2 Diabetes and you’ll reduce your chances of getting Glaucoma.  Eat a well-rounded diet, keep your weight in the healthy range, exercise and work with your doctor and a nutritionist to understand your disease and how best to manage it.  

 Studies have also shown that moderate exercise such as walking/jogging three or more times a week will actually lower inter ocular pressure – one of the key stressors that leads to Glaucoma. It’s always best to have a conversation with your doctor especially if you are at high risk and/or have other underlying health conditions. 

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month – so schedule your comprehensive eye exam today – early detection is the best weapon against this silent disease. 

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