Glaucoma is a complex eye disease that causes a person’s vision to slowly deteriorate. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, more than three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half of them know they have the disease. It’s the most common cause of blindness for those over age 60.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and it’s a good reminder for everyone over 40 to maintain their eye health and visit the eye doctor on schedule. Maintaining the recommended screening schedule is extremely important for this group, and even more important for those ages 60 and older.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage a person’s optic nerve, which sends visual information from the eye to the brain. There are two main types of this disease: primary open-angle glaucoma and acute angle-closure glaucoma. In the first type, part of the eye isn’t draining properly, which increases pressure inside the eye. In the second, the iris is squeezed against the cornea, which blocks drains inside the eye.
In its early stages, glaucoma often has few or no symptoms. Unfortunately, those who do not treat it early risk developing tunnel vision, extreme loss of vision, and eventual blindness. Modern glaucoma testing allows people to learn whether they have glaucoma before they ever have any symptoms.
There are five common glaucoma tests that can help protect your eye health. These measure the inner eye pressure, the shape and color of the optic nerve, the field of vision, the angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea, and the thickness of the cornea. These tests typically only take a few minutes and may involve eye dilation or numbing eye drops.
By having an annual eye exam and detecting the condition early, a person with glaucoma can receive treatments to slow or prevent vision loss.
Although many people don’t notice or recognize early glaucoma symptoms, there are several to look out for. These symptoms include:
- Patchy blind spots in your peripheral (side) vision
- Trouble seeing things in your central vision
- Severe headache
- Severe eye pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Eye redness
- Halos or colored rings around lights
It’s very important that people don’t ignore any of the signs and symptoms. If you experience any of these suddenly, visit your eye doctor as soon as possible. Experts recommend visiting the emergency room if you are unable to see your eye doctor immediately.
Glaucoma treatments can include medicated eye drops, oral medications, laser, and traditional surgery.
After a glaucoma diagnosis, people may have to adjust their daily routines to maintain the best quality of life possible. These adjustments may include:
- Sticking to the prescribed medication schedule
- Taking extra care to avoid falls and accidents
- Exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (consult a doctor before you begin)
- Continuing to read – magnifying devices and enlarged device fonts can help
- Finding and relying on your support team, including family, friends, and your glaucoma care team
By maintaining regular eye exams and receiving appropriate screening tests, people can get an early diagnosis, treatment, and ability to see the world around them for many years to come.
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