What is Glaucoma?

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Eye glasses and contact lens case on top of Glaucoma article

With the New Year upon us, it’s time to make and pursue our New Year’s Resolutions. When many of us think of a New Year’s resolution, we often include health-based goals. As we seek to become a healthier, better version of ourselves, let’s make sure we don’t overlook our gift of sight.

Periodic eye and vision examinations are an important part of preventative healthcare. Many eye and vision problems have no obvious signs or symptoms, so you might not know a problem exists unless you receive regular eye examinations. January just happens to be National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to think about this sight-threatening disease.

More than 3 million people in the United States (and over 60 million throughout the world) have glaucoma. As the current population in the United States continues to age, the National Eye Institute estimates that the number of Americans with glaucoma will increase to over 4 million over the next decade. The scary part is that in the early stages, a patient with glaucoma experiences no symptoms.  In fact, as much as 40% of vision can be lost before that patient becomes symptomatic. How is that possible? Glaucoma is a painless condition that typically affects our peripheral vision (in other words, our side vision) first. Once vision loss is noted in day-to-day activities, extensive damage has likely already occurred. Even scarier - once that vision is lost, it is not coming back. Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent. However, if caught early enough, vision loss from glaucoma is preventable!

So what is Glaucoma and what can I do?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can lead to damage of our optic nerve.  The optic nerve is the connection between our eye and our brain. We can think of it as a bundle of millions of tiny wires that send all the light information that the eye collects back to the brain. The brain then uses that information to form the “image” that we see. If the optic nerve becomes damaged, the eye is unable to send information to the brain, leading to vision loss.

Our risk for glaucoma increases with age; however, it can affect people of all ages. If you have a sibling that has glaucoma, the risk for developing it yourself also increases. Diabetes or high amounts of near-sightedness can further increase risk (but again, glaucoma can affect ANYONE). The good news is that the signs of early glaucoma are easily detectable by your optometrist during a comprehensive eye exam. If your eye doctor sees subtle signs of glaucoma, additional tests can be performed that will help them understand if treatment needs to be started.  When caught early, glaucoma can most often be controlled with certain prescribed eye drops or minor surgical procedures. If necessary, your optometrist will work with you to determine the best course of treatment. Once treatment has begun, the goal is to halt glaucoma in its tracks.

The best way to protect yourself from glaucoma is to get regular comprehensive eye examinations, whether or not you wear glasses. You can protect your loved ones as well by encouraging them to also receive regular comprehensive eye exams. The American Optometric Association recommends comprehensive examinations at least every two years even if you don’t have any other symptoms.

At Gem State Family Eyecare, protecting and enhancing the vision of your entire family is our goal in 2018. Make it your goal this year to be a healthier you. A simple and great way to start is to kick off the year with a comprehensive eye exam from the highly trained and skilled Optometric Physicians at Gem State Family Eyecare. We look forward to helping you reach your goals in this new year!

By Jaimen Dixon, OD