Understanding the Silent Threat of Glaucoma

Today, glaucoma affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase. Glaucoma is called the sneaky thief of sight because it has no symptoms and progresses slowly. By the time a person learns about their glaucoma diagnosis, 40 percent of their vision is permanently lost. January has been designated Glaucoma Awareness Month to educate the general public, people who are at high risk, and medical professionals about this sneaky eye disease.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, leading to vision impairment or blindness. The anterior chamber is a clear fluid that flows in and out of small spaces at the front of the eye. This fluid bathes and nourishes nearby tissues. If this fluid drains too slowly, pressure builds up and damages the optic nerve.

Who is at risk?

People who are over age 60, have internal eye pressure above normal and have hyperopia (farsightedness) tend to be at higher risk. Additionally, people of African or Caribbean descent, Latinos, and Asians have an increased chance of developing glaucoma and of developing it sooner in life. Family history also plays a critical role in developing glaucoma, such as having a sibling or parent with the disease. Other risk factors include eye injuries, such as blunt trauma and sports injuries, or a history of multiple eye surgeries for chronic eye conditions.

What are the types of glaucoma?

Several types exist, but open-angle glaucoma is the most common type in the U.S. Nine out of 10 people are diagnosed with this type. Other types are less common, like angle-closure glaucoma, neovascular glaucoma, and congenital glaucoma.

What are the signs?

At first, there are no symptoms; vision is normal, and there is no pain. Over time, peripheral vision gradually fails. That means objects in front can be seen but objects on the side cannot. As the disease progresses, the field of vision narrows, and blindness and vision impairment result.

What can be done?

Get an eye exam every year to fight glaucoma. Be sure that it is comprehensive and that your eyes are dilated. During the exam, the doctor performs an eye pressure check to see if you have glaucoma.

How can glaucoma be treated?

Glaucoma cannot be cured currently, but it can be treated and controlled with regular medication and/or surgery. Medication usually comes in the form of eye drops that reduce pressure by slowing the flow of fluid in the eye so that it does not build up. Sometimes, laser surgery is offered, where laser beams are focused on specific parts of the eye to reduce pressure and allow fluid to exit the eye.

How does glaucoma impact reading and life?

Since glaucoma impacts the field of view and it is like looking through fog glasses, the ability to read can be greatly affected. Over time, reading can become slower and more difficult or even stop altogether. This can impact quality of life and overall independence. Make reading easier by increasing your computer or smartphone text size, using spotlighting when reading print, and considering reading on a tablet or other device that enables reverse polarity (white letters on a black background instead of black letters on a white background). A person with a vision impairment from glaucoma can learn to modify other daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, using adaptive technology, and even using a white cane for travel. Contact us today for assistance with these suggestions and other ways to stay independent.

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