Seeing the beauty of each new day and the precious faces of our loved ones are some of the privileges of life that we may take for granted. Our vision is worth protecting and that’s why the National Institute of Health (NIH) has declared this month to be Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Of the 332 million people who live in the United States, 2.7 million suffer from one of the leading causes of blindness: glaucoma. Half of these 2.7 million people do not know they have glaucoma because there are no early symptoms.
Early detection is critical in treating glaucoma. That’s why the board-certified ophthalmologists at Colorado Ophthalmology Associates of Denver, CO, offer comprehensive eye exams that include dilation to look for signs of early stage glaucoma that otherwise would show no symptoms.
For patients with established or advanced glaucoma, Colorado Ophthalmology Associates also now has a board-certified Glaucoma Specialist taking new patients.
What is glaucoma?
While there are many different kinds of the disease, open-angle glaucoma is the most common. It can occur in one or both eyes. Glaucoma is a degenerative optic nerve disease that only progresses or gets worse.
This optic nerve degeneration can be slowed by lowering of the intra-ocular pressure, but each glaucomatous eye needs a treatment plan uniquely tailored to each individual situation.
Glaucoma can be frustrating since it may take many visits to determine if an eye is glaucomatous, and then it may take several visits to stabilize a glaucomatous eye. Uncontrolled glaucoma universally ends in blindness. This is why it is important to continue with regular follow-up appointments.
Vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. Glaucoma patients and patients at risk for glaucoma who do not follow up with regular eye exams are most likely to have severe vision loss.
There is no symptom that can reliably tell a patient if they have glaucoma or can show them if their glaucoma is controlled.
Remember, regular follow up is key so that your doctor can complete and repeat the necessary testing to keep your eyes healthy!
Who is at risk for glaucoma?
While anyone could be at risk for developing glaucoma, there are some groups who need to be even more vigilant in testing for the disease. Here are some risk factors for glaucoma.
- Family history – if you have a family history of glaucoma (especially if someone in your family develops glaucoma prior to age 65), you are at higher risk for developing the disease since it runs in the family.
- African Americans – you are at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Hispanic/Latino – you are at a higher risk for glaucoma.
- Asian – you may be at a higher risk for closed-angle glaucoma.
- Diabetic – if you are diabetic, you may be at a higher risk for an aggressive type of glaucoma.
- Age – the most common type of glaucoma (primary open-angle glaucoma) most often occurs in patients who are over 60 years old.
Detection of glaucoma
Because glaucoma usually has no symptoms, direct optic nerve evaluation is imperative. The best way for your doctor to evaluate your optic nerve is with a dilated eye exam.
The NIH recommends a dilated eye exam every 1-2 years to scan for any signs of the disease that could lead to permanent blindness since glaucomatous optic nerves have a characteristic appearance. This is why it is recommended that individuals over the age of 60 should make a yearly comprehensive eye exam.
In the exam, your ophthalmologist will use numbing drops to check your eye pressure and then will use special drops to dilate your eyes so they can study your optic nerve tissue. Additionally, you may need a field of vision test, special photos of your nerve tissue, an evaluation of your drainage angles, and an assessment of your corneal thickness. These tests are painless tests and may need to be gathered over more than one appointment.
Early detection is critical in the treatment of glaucoma. Your ophthalmologist may recommend drops, lasers, and/or surgery to manage your glaucoma. Surgery is typically a last option, and it may not improve your vision loss if that vision loss is related to glaucoma.
Remember, treatment is preventative. The goal is to prevent vision loss from glaucoma with the previously-mentioned therapies.
Get an appointment today
If you fall into one of the high risk categories, or if you have been experiencing any changes in your vision, call today for an appointment with a board-certified ophthalmologist at one of our two Colorado locations in Denver or Lakewood.
If it has been awhile since you’ve had a pain-free dilated eye exam, we’re here to help make sure your eyes are healthy for the year ahead.