It’s that time of year again. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time set aside each year to create awareness about this potentially devastating disease. The reason awareness about glaucoma is so important is because as its nickname, The Sneak Thief of Sight, describes, the disease often causes permanent damage to your eyes and vision without any noticeable symptoms, until it’s too late. In fact, up to 40% of your vision could be lost without any noticeable symptoms! This is why awareness and early detection are essential for effective treatment.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide. It is a group of eye diseases that results in damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.
Most cases of glaucoma occur without obvious symptoms. Often people think they will experience headache or eye pain, however this is largely a misconception. There are several types of glaucoma and only one, angle closure glaucoma, typically presents with pain.
Treatment for Glaucoma
While there is still no cure for glaucoma, there are medications and surgical procedures that are able to prevent and slow any further vision loss. However, any vision that is lost is irreversible, usually. Again, this is why early detection is key to stopping and preventing vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma screening includes a number of tests. Many people believe the “air-puff” test used to measure eye pressure is what detects glaucoma, but this is not the whole picture. In fact, many people can develop glaucoma with normal eye pressure. Today newer technologies are available, such as OCT (like an ultrasound), which allow eye doctors to look directly at the optic nerve to assess glaucoma progression. The treatment plan depends on a number of factors including the type of glaucoma and severity of the eye damage.
While anyone can be affected by glaucoma, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the likelihood of getting the disease. Being aware of the risk factors and knowing whether you are at higher risk puts you in a better position to take steps toward prevention, including regular screenings by an eye doctor. Here are some of the major risk factors:
Glaucoma Risk Factors
- Over 60 years old (over 40 for African Americans)
- Family history of glaucoma
- African or Hispanic descent
- Previous eye injury or surgery – even a childhood eye injury can lead to glaucoma decades later
- High nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Cortisone steroid use (in the form of eye drops, pills, creams etc.)
Now that you know the risk factors, what can you do to prevent glaucoma? Here are some guidelines for an eye healthy lifestyle that can prevent glaucoma, as well as many other eye and not-eye related diseases:
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise daily
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prevent UV exposure (by wearing sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors)
- Get regular comprehensive eye exams – and make sure to tell your eye doctor if you have risk factors for glaucoma
- Eat a healthy diet rich in a large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, vitamins A, C, E and D, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids
Even if you have 20/20 vision, you may still have an asymptomatic eye disease such as glaucoma. Glaucoma Awareness is step one in prevention but there is a lot more to do to keep your eyes and vision safe. During January, make a commitment to take the following additional steps toward glaucoma prevention:
- Assess your risk factors
- Schedule a comprehensive eye exam and discuss glaucoma with your eye doctor. Even if you feel you have clear vision, it is worthwhile to book an eye exam in order to detect eye diseases such as this “Sneak Thief”.
- Adopt the healthy, preventative lifestyle guidelines outlined above
- Spread the word. Talk about glaucoma to friends and family to ensure that they too can become aware and take steps to prevent glaucoma from stealing their sight.
The Video Transcript:
Good Afternoon, Dr. Cassis here. Today we’re gonna talk about Glaucoma. So, January is Glaucoma awareness month and I’m just gonna go over a few risk factors and how the disease work and what can be done to save your sight. So, Glaucoma is what we call the silent thief of sight and the reason why we call it that is because there’s no symptoms that are associated with Glaucoma, unless your pressure is extremely high and your eye is painful. So Basically, what happens is if the pressure inside the eye; so, there’s our eye sideways here “our digital eye” so the front part of the cornea, the front part of the eye’s called cornea, the colored part is called the iris and then inside here is the lens. So, what happens in a normal eye is fluid is produced and sorta drains out of the eye bringing nutrients and, um, keeping the eye healthy; so, when there’s too much fluid being produced or not enough that drains out, the pressure will build inside the eye, and damage the back of the eye here which where the optic nerve is located. And that’s the definition for Glaucoma, that’s the simple definition for Glaucoma. There’s a lot of different type when the drainage area is very narrow it’s called Closed Angle Glaucoma, um, there’s Pigmentary Glaucoma, there’s Congenital Glaucoma, so there’s all kinds of Glaucoma but the most common one is called Open Angle Glaucoma. So, what we wanna do is make sure that the pressure is not too high to cause damage in, um, on the optic nerve. So, the pressure levels normally are between 10 and 21, so when you come in that’s one of the tests we do; we gonna check your pressure, um, if the pressure is high, higher than 21, then you become a little suspicious, right? The other thing we gonna do is take a good look at the back of the eye where the optic nerve is located and look at the appearance of the optic nerve and make sure that the opening of the optic nerve is not too big. Again, anything where the opening is bigger than 50% of the optic nerve we call it suspicious. Then we look at other risk factors like your age, your family history and your race. So, um, we know any above 40 is at a greater risk of having Glaucoma, we know people with a family history and we’re talking about siblings and mother-father, um, and then we also know that African-Americans and Hispanics are also at an increase risk for Glaucoma. So, to come in for a regular eye exam, get the pressure checked, um, take a look at the back of the eye where the optic nerve is located to make sure everything is good. If we think that there is concern, reason to be concern either like I said, the pressure is high or your optic nerve looks suspicious, then we bring you back for additional testing and in those testing we’re gonna measure the thickness of your optic nerve, compared to a normal database and see if your optic nerve is thinner than the norm, and then we also measure the function of your optic nerve and so the way we do that, so you can still read the chart and have Glaucoma. It’s not gonna affect your central vision until you’ve lost a significant amount of vision. So, we wanna catch it before that and lower the pressure before that happens. So, what’s gonna happen is, as the pressure stays high, and, um, sorta damage or thins out the optic nerve, it’s gonna cause some vision loss right on the peripheral part of your vision most commonly. So, that’s when we do something that’s called the Visual Field Test where we actually measure the function of your optic nerve; you’re seating in front of this bowl and there’s different lights of different intensities that comes on, and you click the button when you see the light. And that, we can sorta map what your field of vision looks like and see if there’s any areas that are affected. So, that’s the main way to sorta diagnose and do the screening test for Glaucoma. Treatment, the most common way to treat Glaucoma is to use eye drops and those eye drops, for the main part there’s a lot of different eye drops it’s, um, just medicine and medications that’ve come a long way. Most commonly what’s used is one drop before bedtime and that lowers the amount of fluid that the eye is producing, to lower the overall pressure inside the eye. So, eye drops are very commonly used, it can have one, two, three eye drops depending on how difficult it is to bring down the pressure within the eye. The other very common alternative is to use laser. So, what happens with the laser is, we’re gonna open up the drainage area with the laser to, um, allow more fluid to leave the eye and then for the pressure to come down. Patients that don’t like eye drops can actually go to laser as a first line of treatment rather than using drops to lower the pressure. And then, if those two things don’t work then there’s other more advanced surgical options that can be done to really; the whole goal again is to lower the pressure, to keep that optic nerve, um, intact. So, if you have any questions please feel free to call us at 596-4018, and schedule your appointment, get your pressure checked, and get your optic nerve looked up. Thank you!