By Kathy Hubbard
At a recent dinner party, someone asked, “Which of your five senses would you be willing to give up?” The dinner was delicious, so no one volunteered to give up taste. A couple of the men said that they had no sense of smell, and a couple of others wear hearing aids. But the consensus of the group was that losing one’s sight would be the most debilitating.
The discussion was pertinent to me because January is glaucoma awareness month, and I’d received a bulletin from the Glaucoma Research Foundation asking people to talk to friends and family about the disease. So that’s what I did and am doing.
“Currently, more than three million people in the United States have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase,” GRF’s website says. They also say that “in the U.S., approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for nine to twelve percent of all cases of blindness.”
It’s called the “sneak thief of sight” because it has no symptoms and once vision is lost, there is no way to get it back. GRF says that as much as 40 percent of your sight can be gone without you even noticing it.
Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve.
I won’t get too technical here but will tell you that there are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. POAG is the most common. Angle-closure is a different story and can cause an acute attack, which is a medical emergency. Signs include sudden blurry vision, severe eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and might include seeing a rainbow-colored ring or halo around lights.
Some reports stated that one is at higher risk if over sixty, but the American Academy of Ophthalmologists says that some people have a higher than normal risk of getting glaucoma if they’re over forty. Another risk factor is if a parent or sibling has the disease. Those of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage are at higher risk as well.
Other risks include having high eye pressure; being farsighted or nearsighted, have had an eye injury; long-term use of steroid medications; have corneas that are thin in the center; have thinning of the optic nerve; have diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation or other health problems affecting the whole body.
“The only sure way to diagnose glaucoma is with a complete eye exam. A glaucoma screening will include having the eye pressure measured, an inspection of your eye’s drainage angle, and an examination of your optic nerve for damage. The medico will test your peripheral vision, take a picture or computer measurement of your optic nerve and measure the thickness of your cornea,” AAO says.
This may sound like a lot, but believe me, it only takes a minute or two to make sure you aren’t showing any signs of a disease that may rob you of your sight. Ask your primary care provider how often he or she thinks you should have an eye exam.
As for treatment, although what’s lost is lost, the progression of the disease can be controlled, and further damage may be preventable. Eye drops can lower eye pressure.
“Some [eye drops] do this by reducing the amount of aqueous fluid the eye makes. Others reduce pressure by helping fluid flow better through the drainage angle,” AAO says. There are also surgical procedures that can treat glaucoma.
What can you do? Protect your eyes. “Wearing protective eyewear is important when engaged in sports activities or home improvement projects,” GRF says. “Eye injuries can result in traumatic glaucoma or secondary glaucoma, so protecting your eyes from injury is a way to prevent glaucoma.”
Some studies I read suggest limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption. All said marijuana doesn’t help glaucoma. And, they all recommend regular aerobic exercises. But, the most important step is to get a complete eye exam. Go ahead, make that appointment today.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for Bonner General Ophthalmology Opening in Early 2020.