Discover Your Best Defense Against Glaucoma-related Blindness
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Like any physical disease, the more you know about glaucoma the better your odds are against developing glaucoma-related blindness. Dr. Davis and his staff care for eye health every day, so sharing this essential information is important to our business throughout the year.
Let’s get 2021 Glaucoma Awareness Month started by explaining that glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve of the eye. This happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. This extra fluid causes an increase in the pressure within the eye and damaging the vital optic nerve.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the U.S. There are no noticeable symptoms in its early stages. In fact, the loss of vision happens so gradually that people are unaware until it compromises their sight.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers advice on the best defense against developing glaucoma-related blindness. The organization encourages us to have comprehensive eye exams regularly. Taking time for these regular checkups can keep us up-to-date on our eye health.
Learn The Most Common Type of Glaucoma for Glaucoma Awareness Month
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma doctors find. As mentioned, this develops gradually and is very similar to a clogged drain. This is because the eye fails to drain fluid as well as it should. The added fluid pressure builds and damages the optic nerve.
It is important to note that primary open-angle glaucoma is painless. At first, it causes no noticeable change to vision. Some people do have optic nerves that are sensitive to normal eye pressure. Having this means their risk of getting glaucoma is higher. A regular eye exam would be an important step to finding early signs of optic nerve or vision damage.
Painful Angle-closure Glaucoma and Acute Attacks
This type of glaucoma gets its name from when the iris is very close to the drainage angle in the eye. When the iris completely blocks the drainage angle, pressure in the eye rises quickly. There are two forms of angle-closure glaucoma to discuss, acute and chronic.
The first is the acute form of angle-closure glaucoma that results in severe pain. In other words, this acute attack is an eye emergency. Call your ophthalmologist right away for care or it may make you blind. This is why prompt medical care is critical. Signs of an acute angle-closure glaucoma attack include:
Sudden onset of blurry vision
Severe eye pain
Nausea; feeling sick to your stomach
Throwing up; vomiting
Seeing rainbow-colored rings or halos around lights
As with primary open-angle glaucoma, chronic angle-closure also develops slowly. The acute attack may be the first sign of trouble people experience. Having angle-closure glaucoma as an on-going condition would be an important reason to see the ophthalmologist regularly.
Those at a Higher Risk of Getting Glaucoma
You may suppose that there are people who have a higher risk of getting glaucoma. Are you one of them? Those at a higher risk of getting glaucoma include:
People over age 40
Those with a family history of glaucoma
People of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage
Those with high eye pressure
Those diagnosed as farsighted or nearsighted
People who have had an eye injury
People taking long-term steroid medication
Those who have corneas that are thin in the center
People who have thinning of the optic nerve
Those with systemic health problems, such as diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation, and more.
Speak with your doctor or an ophthalmologist about your glaucoma risk(s), especially if more than one of these risk factors pertain to you. The ophthalmologist may perform a glaucoma screening, but can only diagnose glaucoma with a complete eye exam.
Glaucoma Screening and Glaucoma Exams
You might have had a glaucoma screening as part of a comprehensive eye exam. However, this screening tool is only a first step. A glaucoma screening that only checks eye pressure is not enough to diagnose glaucoma. When Dr. Davis does a complete glaucoma exam, he will:
Measure eye pressure
Inspect the eye’s drainage angle
Examine the optic nerve for damage
Test peripheral (side) vision
Take an image or computer measurement of the optic nerve
Measure the thickness of the cornea
The damage glaucoma causes to the eye is permanent. However, there is medication or surgery to help stop further damage. The doctor may use these options to treat glaucoma.
Medication for Glaucoma and Common Side Effects
Controlling glaucoma with medication usually means using eye drops daily. The eye drop medication lowers eye pressure. Some of these reduce the amount of aqueous fluid the eye creates. Others reduce the pressure by helping fluid flow through the drainage angle easily.
While medications for glaucoma can help keep your vision, they may also have side effects. Some of the problems the eye drops can cause include:
Stinging or itching sensations
Red eyes or red skin around the eyes
Changes in your pulse and heartbeat
Changes in your energy level
Breathing changes, especially if you already have asthma or trouble breathing
Eye color changes, or change in eyelid appearance
Be sure to review your other medications with your doctor. This is important because other drugs can cause problems or side effects when you take them together. Discuss any side effects from the glaucoma medication with your ophthalmologist first. Above all, do not stop taking or change medications without speaking with the doctor. If your prescription looks about ready to run out, talk with the ophthalmologist about refilling it.
A Team Effort in Treating Glaucoma
As you can see from these few important points, working with your doctor on glaucoma detection and treatment is a team effort. The doctor will examine and prescribe the right treatment. After that, it is up to the patient to follow the doctor’s instructions and use the eye drops as he or she prescribes.
At the start we talked about the importance of regular checkups. Once you start taking glaucoma medications, the ophthalmologist will want to see you about every three-to-six months. This may change depending on your specific needs.
For more on glaucoma treatment, give Glenn K. Davis, II, MD, a call at (540) 980-1965 in Pulaski or (276) 236-8307 in Galax today. Follow us on Facebook for updates on eye health, and more on Glaucoma Awareness Month .