The term “glaucoma” encompasses a range of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve within the eye. When the pressure builds up within the eye, then it can result in permanent vision loss because of damage to the optic nerve.
Are you at risk for glaucoma? Can you identify the signs of glaucoma? This article will provide the overview you need to protect your vision now and in the future.
Everyone needs to know that glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness and vision loss – which is why it is important to watch for early signs of this eye disease.
It’s estimated that millions of people in the United States are affected by glaucoma. But most people have no idea that they have this disease.
Identifying the earliest stages of glaucoma reduces the risk of further vision loss. Early diagnosis optimizes a patient’s chances for immediate treatment, before significant vision loss occurs.
Usually, the first sign of glaucoma is a loss of peripheral or side vision – especially if this symptom happens suddenly.
Other symptoms also indicate serious vision problems, which is why you should seek immediate medical services if you notice any of these signs:
- Loss of side or peripheral vision
- Patchy blind spots in the central or side vision
- Tunnel vision and losing vision on the edges of the visual field
- Any form of vision loss, especially sudden vision loss
- Seeing rainbow-colored halos around lights
- Unusual sensitivity to light
- Eye redness, especially if accompanied by pain
- Hazy or cloudy appearance in the cornea of the eye
- Severe eye pain with vomiting or nausea
- Eye and head pain
Early-stage glaucoma happens when the eye pressure starts increasing, but a patient hasn’t lost vision yet (or only minimal vision loss has occurred). At this point, you still have the opportunity to seek treatment to prevent more vision loss in the future.
Most of the time, glaucoma affects older adults. But early-onset glaucoma is possible, especially for patients with a family history of this eye disease.
Additionally, glaucoma can affect children because of birth defects or genetic disorders. If glaucoma occurs in the first 5 years of life, then it is known as primary congenital glaucoma.
Anyone can be diagnosed with glaucoma, but certain risk factors increase the likelihood of diagnosis:
- All people over the age of 60
- African Americans over the age of 40
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having diabetes or high blood pressure
- Long term use of steroids
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans are 6 – 8 times more likely to get glaucoma compared to people who are white.
If you are in any of these high-risk groups, then it’s essential to maintain regular eye exams. A comprehensive, dilated exam is the best way to catch glaucoma in the earliest stages.
It’s possible that an optic nerve can be damaged up to 50% before a person notices any symptoms of glaucoma. Because this eye condition is usually undetected in the earliest stages, it is often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight.”
The progression of this disease is so gradual that you might not notice vision changes until you have reached an advanced stage of vision loss.
Since the symptoms of glaucoma are usually undetected, it’s critical to maintain annual eye exams to check for common signs of increasing eye pressure. If there are no symptoms, then the only way you can find out if you have this condition is by visiting an eye doctor for a comprehensive exam.
During a routine, comprehensive eye exam your eye doctor completes several tests to check for signs of glaucoma:
- Checking eye pressure
- Inspection of the draining angle within the eye
- Examination of the optic nerve
- Measuring corneal thickness
- Testing peripheral vision
If there are any irregularities with these tests, then it could be an indication of glaucoma. Your eye doctor will recommend additional testing to identify if your glaucoma is in the early stages, or if it is moderate, advanced, or absolute (complete vision loss has occurred).
Also, a glaucoma diagnosis will be accompanied by an immediate treatment plan.
When a patient is identified as a risk for glaucoma because there are slight abnormalities in the optic nerves, then tests are repeated in follow-up appointments to determine the progression of the disease.
Most types of glaucoma can’t be prevented. But the good news is that early detection and treatment helps to reduce the vision loss caused by this eye condition.
At this point there is no cure for glaucoma. Once you start losing vision, the vision loss is typically irreversible.
But catching the diagnosis early helps you prevent vision loss and preserve your eyesight as much as possible. Treatments to reduce eye pressure offer an effective solution to slow the progression of this eye disease.
The key is to watch for warning signs, and also be proactive about regular vision checkups so an eye doctor can test the pressure levels in your eyes.
The earlier glaucoma is detected, the more aggressively your eye care team can treat the condition to minimize the chances of irreversible optic nerve damage and vision loss.
When glaucoma is left untreated, then this eye disease will eventually result in blindness.
But even with early detection and ongoing treatment, there is still a risk of vision loss in the future. In fact, about 15% of patients with glaucoma will experience blindness in one or both eyes within 20 years.
Healthy lifestyle factors can play an important part in reducing the risk of glaucoma. For example, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease are all factors that increase the likelihood of glaucoma. So, if you are at risk for any of these conditions, then you should be proactive about improving your health.
Balancing your blood sugar with diet, exercise, and medication usage helps to reduce the risk of increasing pressure in the eye. As with any health condition, it’s important to talk to your doctor about diet and exercise changes that are safe for your current situation.
Also, be smart about wearing eye protection when participating in sports activities or using power tools. Eye injuries can increase the risk of glaucoma, and eye protection can help to minimize the likelihood of these injuries.
Whether you are at-risk for glaucoma, or you want to be proactive about preventing vision loss, the first step is to schedule regular eye exams. Our team at EyesNY, is here to help. We offer multiple locations
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for the entire family. Book an appointment today!