January is Glaucoma awareness month! Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United states. Approximately 3 million people over the age of 40 in the United States have glaucoma, and about half of those people don’t know they have it. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affects the optic nerve and can result in side vision loss and eventually blindness.
How does glaucoma develop?
Glaucoma develops when the eye cannot drain internal fluid. The eye’s internal drainage system is damaged, and this can cause the eye pressure to increase. This is similar to putting a kink in a garden hose; the water pressure builds up and has nowhere to go. This can then cause damage to the optic nerve, the nerve that is responsible for our side vision and our central vision. Damage to the optic nerve can first cause side vision loss, and eventually even total blindness.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Glaucoma has no warning signs! Vision loss can happen over time, and people may not notice these changes until it’s too late. Once side vision loss has occurred, these vision changes can not be changed. We can not cure glaucoma, but we as optometrists can help slow down the disease.
What are the risk factors for developing glaucoma?
There are many risk factors for developing glaucoma. They include: Age over 60, a family history of glaucoma, African American, Asian, or Hispanic race, diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, steroid users, or any previous eye injury.
How is glaucoma detected?
Scheduling a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor is your first step! A dilated eye exam helps the optometrist fully assess the optic nerve. If the optometrist is suspicious of glaucoma based on the appearance of the optic nerve, there are other tools we can use to determine if there is optic nerve damage. We also check your eye pressure with a technique called Goldmann tonometry. If the eye pressure is high, we might be suspicious of glaucoma. We can also measure the corneal thickness and look at where the cornea meets the fluid-draining structures of the eye. We also might conduct a side vision test to assess if there is any side vision loss. With all of these tests combined, this gives us all of the tools we need to properly diagnose, treat, and manage glaucoma.
What are my next steps?
Schedule your eye exam today! Cherry Health provides comprehensive vision services at the Heart of the City Health Center, Montcalm Area Health Center, and Wyoming Community Health Center. Early detection is key with glaucoma. Since there are no early warning signs, it is important to have your eyes fully examined to test for any early signs of glaucoma. As mentioned above, there is no cure for glaucoma, but we can help slow down the disease with eye drops, laser surgery, or other surgical options in later stages of the disease. If you would like to be seen for an eye exam contact us at one of our locations!
Dr. Dana Reilly
Community Health & Primary Care Optometry Resident at Heart of the City Health Center Vision