Only half of the almost 3 million Americans ages 40 and older with glaucoma know they have it, according to the National Eye Institute….
How can that be?
Glaucoma is one of ophthalmology’s greatest puzzles. It’s a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. Only a comprehensive eye exam can detect it. The disease doesn’t send out any early warning signals. There’s no discomfort and no blurry vision at the outset.
In addition to those with a family history of glaucoma or a diagnosis of high eye pressure, the highest risk groups include African Americans over age 40 and Hispanic/Latino people over age 60. Others at risk include people who:
- are severely nearsighted
- have diabetes, are diagnosed with hypertension or are long-term steroid or cortisone users
- have experienced a serious injury or trauma to their eye
- have enlarged optic nerves.
How it happens?
There are several types of glaucoma, but in the most common type—known as open-angle glaucoma—the disease starts with a buildup of fluid that increases the pressure in one or both eyes. It’s caused by slow clogging of the eye’s drainage canals—sort of like a sink backing up. The pressure caused by the backup of fluid damages the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that transfers visual images to your brain. First it affects your side vision. As glaucoma progresses, vision loss becomes more noticeable, narrowing the scope of sight to “tunnel vision”—a condition in which you can only see straight ahead. If it’s not controlled, glaucoma can lead to serious, permanent vision loss or complete blindness.
The good news is, if glaucoma is detected in the early stages, your doctor can control pressure through medication or surgery and can delay the progression of the disease.
A holistic approach
Director of the Moran Eye Center’s Glaucoma and Cataract Division, Alan S. Crandall, MD,
“considers the whole patient, not just the eyes,” when assessing for glaucoma. “We really need to understand each patient as an individual, realizing that each has significantly different issues and concerns. That’s why I emphasize a partnership with my glaucoma patients,” he notes.
Crandall urges glaucoma patients and doctors to have an open dialog to consider every angle when assessing their condition—from snoring and the way sleep apnea might affect the eyes, to diabetes and whether or not patients are able to administer eye drops to help control pressure. “For example,” says Crandall, “if you live alone and have severe arthritis and can’t manage eye drops, your doctor needs to know. If you’re open and up front about your overall health, we can help you manage the condition in the best possible way. Because until we discover better treatments, managing this disease is a lifelong process.”