January is “National Glaucoma Awareness Month”
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., affecting more than four million Americans of all ages and races. But loss of sight may be preventable—if you educate yourself about the latest advances in detection and treatment.
1. How does glaucoma affect vision?
“Glaucoma is a condition in which fluid pressure in the eye affects the optic nerve, thus damaging how visual information is carried from the retina to the brain. Left untreated, it first causes loss of side vision and eventually all sight—permanently. The most common type is painless and progresses so slowly that most people don't notice symptoms for years—until severe permanent damage has occurred,” explains Mark Freedman, MD, a partner at Eye Care Specialists, a leading local ophthalmology practice that cares for tens of thousands of glaucoma patients.
2. What are the risk factors?
Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center, lists the following risk factors for glaucoma:
Age: Glaucoma is most common in adults over age 40, and the risk increases with each decade. Regular screenings should start at this time.
Heredity: If you have a sibling or parent with glaucoma, your risk of developing the disease increases 5 to 10 times. As such, relatives of glaucoma patients should have their eyes checked every 1-2 years.
Ethnicity: A black person has a 6-8 times higher risk of going blind from glaucoma than a white person. Hispanics and Asians also have a higher risk rate.
Other factors: Nearsightedness, diabetes (doubles the risk of glaucoma), steroid use, and having a previous eye injury.
3. How is glaucoma detected?
Daniel Ferguson, MD, an eye surgeon who performs advanced drainage implant procedures to alleviate glaucoma-related eye pressure, advises, “Since glaucoma and other sight-threatening conditions often don’t exhibit early symptoms, regular eye exams are vital after age 40.” A comprehensive exam should include: Ophthalmoscopy (a look inside at the back of the eye to check for signs of glaucoma like abnormal optic nerve size and loss of pink coloring), Tonometry (a check of inner eye pressure done either with a puff of air or by painlessly touching the eye), Visual Field Testing (to create a “map” of the range of existing sight), Gonioscopy (to see if the drainage angle of the eye is open or closed), and an OCT laser scan (to diagnose, track and treat changes to the optic nerve and retina—often before damage occurs).
4. What effect can glaucoma have on your life?
“According to one study, glaucoma patients 50 and older were three times as likely to have experienced a fall in the previous year and six times as likely to have been involved in a car accident in the previous five years as were members of control groups. They were also more likely to be at fault when a collision did occur. Why? Because glaucoma can damage the optic nerve, which may lead to potentially dangerous narrowing of the visual field or ‘tunnel vision,’” explains Harvard graduate and corneal specialist Daniel Paskowitz, MD, PhD.
5. How is glaucoma treated?
Ophthalmologist Michael Raciti, MD, notes, “Glaucoma can’t be cured, but treatment can usually halt further damage. We typically prescribe drops to control fluid pressure. For some patients, however, laser treatment (SLT or ECP) may be a more effective alternative. These 10-minute procedures are covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. And, if successful in achieving steady normal pressures, they can reduce the burden of buying, taking and tracking daily glaucoma drops.”
FREE Booklets & Information
Prompt diagnosis and treatment are vital to protecting and preserving vision. Encourage your siblings and other family members to be checked for glaucoma, especially if one of you has the disease. If you do not have an eye care specialist, call 414-321-7035 for a free educational booklet on glaucoma and information about scheduling a comprehensive screening ( typically covered by Medicare and most insurances) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue, Mayfair Road across from the mall, or 102nd & National Ave.). They also offer detailed educational information at www.eyecarespecialists.net.
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