Local lifestyle columnists

Beware, glaucoma can strike without symptoms

By From page D4 | February 16, 2014

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness is in the world.

At least 2 million Americans suffer from it; half have lost vision – and 10 percent have completely lost their sight. While many people have heard of glaucoma, they might not know that:

  • It cannot be cured. While it is possible to halt vision loss with medication or surgery, there is no cure for glaucoma and any vision lost due to nerve damage is permanent.
  • Everyone is at risk. Older people are at higher risk, but even babies are born with glaucoma (1 out of every 10,000 in the U.S.) and young adults can get it, too.
  • It may have no symptoms. Glaucoma’s most common form (open-angle) has virtually no symptoms; no pain is usually associated with increased eye pressure and you may not notice vision loss until it is significant.

If you are someone who does not require vision correction and/or does not receive annual eye exams, pay special attention to the following information about glaucoma. The good news is that if it is caught early, it is treatable and preventable. The challenge, however, is diagnosing it before any symptoms appear. The first sign is often loss of peripheral vision, but at that stage the glaucoma is already advanced.

When you receive an eye exam, be sure you are screened for glaucoma in addition to receiving a routine vision check. If you are in the high-risk category – more than 60 years old, very far- or near-sighted, African-American more than 40 years old, history of eye trauma, diabetic or with family history of the disease – you should see an ophthalmologist for a full glaucoma screening. You may find you are perfectly fine, but you will have the peace of mind of knowing that.

Glaucoma ABCs

Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, the part of the eye that communicates with the brain. It is often, but not always, associated with high intraocular pressure.

Eye drops are typically the first line of treatment, and in most cases, are all that is required. Latisse, a cosmetic treatment marketed to lengthen eyelashes, is actually a glaucoma medication; patients noticed that longer lashes were a side effect. That has actually made female glaucoma patients more receptive to using it.

Laser surgery is an option when eye drops are not effective; for open-angle glaucoma patients, it can slightly increase the eye’s outflow of fluid, while for those with less-prevalent angle-closure glaucoma, it can prevent fluid blockage. The last resort for treating glaucoma used to be microsurgery, during which a new channel is created to drain the fluid and reduce intraocular pressure, but new minimally invasive glaucoma surgery techniques have been developed that may provide a safer alternative.

The moral to this story is that it is important to be regularly screened for glaucoma, especially if you are in a high-risk group. Simple glaucoma screening exams – which include more than just measuring eye pressure – can literally save your sight.

You may find general information about glaucoma if you Google the National Eye Institute link or  the US National Library of Medicine link below:

www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma/glaucoma_facts.asp or www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/glaucoma.html

For more information, see your doctor.

Julie Chen is an ophthalmologist interested in glaucoma patients. She is affiliated with Sutter Medical Foundation, Sutter Medical Group, Sutter Solano Medical Center; and a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health. 

Julie Chen, MD


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