January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month; the time in which we try to raise awareness of the disease and how it can be prevented and treated. But before getting into treatment options, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about what Glaucoma is, and how to check for it.
So what is Glaucoma, anyway?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal your sight without warning. This group of diseases is the leading cause of preventable blindness, and the 2nd leading cause of all blindness in the world. Over 2.2 million Americans and over 60 million people in the world have glaucoma – and that number is increasing every day. Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight”, because there are no symptoms, and once a person’s vision is lost, it is permanent. Vision loss begins with peripheral vision, so if you have the disease you may not notice anything until too much damage has been done. An average person can lose up to 40% of their vision without even noticing. There is no cure currently, but medication and surgery have both been proven to slow or prevent further vision loss.
How can we test for it?
This month stresses the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision. The most common Glaucoma tests are:
- Tonometry: This exam measures the pressure within your eye. This procedure consists of numbing drops being placed into the eye, and a small amount of pressure applied to the eye by either a small tool or a puff of air.
- Ophthalmoscopy: This test helps the doctor examine your optic nerve for glaucoma damage. Eye drops dilate the pupils so that the doctor is able to see through your eye to examine the shape and color of your optic nerve.
- Perimetry: This is a visual field test which produces a map of your field of vision. In this test, you are asked to look straight ahead and inform the doctor when a moving light passes your peripheral vision.
- Gonioscopy: Gonioscopies help determine the angle where the iris meets the cornea. Eye drops are used to numb the eye, and a contact lens is placed on the eye with a mirror on it. This shows the doctor if the angle between the iris and the cornea is closed and blocked.
- Pachymetry: This test measures the thickness of your cornea by gently placing a probe on the front of the eye. Corneal thickness can influence eye pressure readings, so this measurement can help the doctor better understand your test results.
If there’s no cure, how do I treat this disease?
Treatment options vary, depending on the doctor, as well as a person’s level of overall health and the severity of the glaucoma itself. A doctor may prescribe eye drops to a patient, or he or she may recommend laser surgery to repair the damaged fluid channels and optic nerve. This option, however, can be pricey (depending on a person’s insurance), and there is an increased risk of cataracts afterward. Also, it is not uncommon that a person will have to repeat the procedure later on in order to permanently control the disease. Recovery time is generally minimal, though most people need to maintain their eye pressure after the procedure with medications. To see which option is right for you, speak to your optometrist.
For more information on Glaucoma or if you’d like to donate for research for a cure, please visit www.Glaucoma.org.