Glaucoma Awareness Month: Your Most Frequently Asked Questions Answered
If you’ve ever known someone who has been diagnosed with glaucoma, you’ll understand why it’s often called ‘the sneak-thief of sight’. This insidious disease affects more than 3 million people in the United States alone and is currently the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. That’s why many of America’s leading eye health organizations have come together to declare January National Glaucoma Awareness Month. By working together to educate the public on the signs and symptoms of this disease, they hope to encourage more people to get tested. Early testing is the only way to stop encroaching vision loss before it becomes a total blindness.
Although glaucoma can be treated if it’s caught early enough, the damage to your sight cannot be reversed. Many people don’t realize that they’ve lost a significant percentage of their vision until it’s already too late. If you’re over 60, you should be getting tested regularly.
This Glaucoma Awareness Month, make it a personal goal to learn as much as possible about this disease. To help accomplish this task, we’re answering your most frequently asked questions about glaucoma.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a catchall term for a number of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. Typically, this damage is caused by pressure on the optic nerve due to fluid buildup, although there are some types of glaucoma that occur even when intraocular pressure is within normal levels.
What Are Some Common Signs and Symptoms of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is so damaging because it can develop very slowly, with almost no symptoms. Many people assume that gradually worsening vision is simply a normal part of aging, and feel embarrassed even bringing it up to a doctor or ophthalmologist. However, it’s important to be aware that glaucoma is not a normal part of aging. If you have any of the following symptoms, it’s wise to contact a doctor or ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of glaucoma include:
- Patchy blind spots in your field of vision
- Tunnel vision
- Halos around lights
- Blurry vision
- Eye redness
- Intense headaches
It’s important to keep in mind that many of these symptoms only become apparent when the disease is in its later stages. In the early stages, many people do not notice their vision changing.
How Do I Know If I Have Glaucoma?
If you do experience symptoms, an ophthalmologist will be able to give you a diagnosis by performing a comprehensive eye exam. This will require your eyes to be dilated.
During the exam, your ophthalmologist will use an arsenal of tests to measure the pressure in your eye, check your optic nerve for damage, and assess how your vision has been affected. They’ll then be able to walk you through the specific type of glaucoma that you have and explain your treatment options.
Although damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed, it can be slowed or even stopped completely through carefully managed treatment.
What Are My Treatment Options?
Many people who have been newly diagnosed with glaucoma feel confused and frustrated that their vision has deteriorated without them ever noticing. Fortunately, there are lots of treatment options available that can slow or even stop the further decline of their sight.
Prescription Eye Drops and Medication
Prescription eye drops are often the first line of defense against glaucoma because they’re easy to use and completely non-invasive. There are many different types of eye drops used to combat glaucoma, and you may be prescribed one or several depending on your particular circumstances.
Beta-blockers, prostaglandins, alpha-adrenergic agonists, rho kinase inhibitors, and carbonic anhydrase inhibitors are some of the most common. These are taken one to four times per day.
Although they are quite easy to administer, many of these eye drops do have side effects. Reddening and swelling of the eyes is not uncommon, but potential side effects can also include irregular heart rate, fatigue, and tingling in the extremities.
In addition to prescription eye drops, oral medications may be used to bring intraocular pressure down to normal levels.
There are a variety of surgeries that can be performed to mitigate pressure on the optic nerve and limit the resulting damage. These surgeries are often performed with a precision laser device, so both the recovery time and the post-operative side effects are minimal.
Laser surgery is often performed at an ophthalmology clinic, with a numbing agent or local anesthetic applied to the eye so there’s no pain or discomfort. Depending on which type of glaucoma you have, your ophthalmologist may recommend a treatment such as selective laser trabeculoplasty or laser peripheral iridotomy to help encourage fluid drainage and reduce intraocular pressure.
If laser surgery is not effective, or if the pressure within your eye does not improve, you may be advised to seek conventional incisional surgery, which is more invasive, but is effective in 70-90% of patients.
Preventative Care is Key
Since glaucoma can develop undetected for years, it’s incredibly important to get your eyes examined on a regular basis. This is even more important if you’re at increased risk for the disease. Known risk factors include advanced age, nearsightedness, or a family history of the disease. Medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or sickle cell anemia can also put you at increased risk. The longer glaucoma goes undetected, the greater your risk for total vision loss.
If you’re looking for an ophthalmology practice that can address all of your glaucoma concerns, reach out to Abrams Eye Institute. Dr. Abrams and his team have helped patients from all over Nevada safeguard their vision long-term. Get in touch with us today to schedule your next appointment.