According to a Prevent Blindness America survey, going blind is the third most common health fear – after cancer and heart disease.
As a result, you’d think significant emphasis would be placed on glaucoma screening, but that’s not always the case.
Here are some things you need to know about glaucoma:
The good news about glaucoma is that if it’s caught early, it’s 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’re screened for glaucoma in addition to receiving a routine vision check. If you’re in the high-risk category – over 60, very far- or near-sighted, African-American over age 40, history of eye trauma, diabetic or with family history of the disease – you should see an ophthalmologist for a full glaucoma screening.
Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, the part of the eye that communicates with the brain. It’s often, but not always, associated with high intraocular pressure.
Eye drops are typically the first line of treatment. Latisse, which is marketed as a cosmetic treatment to lengthen eyelashes, is actually a glaucoma medication. Patients who took the medication noticed longer eye lashes as were a side effect. That’s actually made glaucoma patients – especially women – more receptive to using it.
Laser surgery is an option when eye drops aren’t 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 is microsurgery to create a new channel to drain fluid and reduce intraocular pressure.
In most cases, medication is all that’s required, but laser surgery or microsurgery may be necessary and may produce better results in some glaucoma patients.
The takeaway here is that it’s important to be screened regularly for glaucoma, especially if you’re in a high-risk group. Simple glaucoma screening exams – which include more than just measuring eye pressure – can literally save your sight.
Dr. Chen is an ophthalmologist with a particular interest in managing glaucoma patients. She practices within Sutter Medical Foundation’s Fairfield and Vacaville offices, is on-staff at Sutter Solano Medical Center and a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.. You can request an appointment at suttermedicalfoundation.org or call 427-4900.