By Jim Miller
It’s called the “silent thief of sight” for a reason. With no early warning signs or pain, most people who have glaucoma don’t realize it until their vision begins to deteriorate.
Here’s what you should know.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness if it’s not treated. This typically happens because the fluids in the eye don’t drain properly, causing increased pressure in the eyeball.
There are two main types of glaucoma, but the most common form that typically affects older people is called open-angle glaucoma. This disease develops very slowly when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, leading to blind spots in the peripheral or side vision. By the time you notice it, the permanent damage is already done.
Are You at Risk?
It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma today, but that number is expected to surge to more than 4 million by 2030.
If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you’re at increased risk of developing it.
• Are you African American, Hispanic/Latino American or Asian American?
• Are you over age 60?
• Do you have an immediate family member with glaucoma?
• Do you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, migraines or extreme nearsightedness?
• Have you had a past eye injury?
• Have you used corticosteroids (for example, eye drops, pills, inhalers, and creams) for long periods of time?
What to Do
Early detection is the key to guarding against glaucoma. So if you’re age 40 or older and have any of the previously listed risk factors (especially if you’re African American), you need to get a comprehensive eye examination every year or two. Or, if you notice some loss of peripheral vision, get to the eye doctor right away.
If you are a Medicare beneficiary, annual eye examinations are covered for those at high risk for glaucoma. Or if you don’t have vision coverage, check into EyeCare America, a national program that provides free glaucoma eye exams and there are no income requirements. Visit EyeCareAmerica.org or call 877-887-6327 to learn more.
While there’s currently no cure for glaucoma, most cases can be treated with prescription eye drops, which reduce eye pressure and can prevent further vision loss. It cannot, however, restore vision already lost from glaucoma. If eye drops don’t work, your doctor may recommend oral medication, laser treatments, incisional surgery or a combination of these methods.
For more information on glaucoma, visit the National Eye Institute at NEI.nih.gov, and the Glaucoma Research Foundation at Glaucoma.org.
Jim Miller writes the column Savvy Senior, which is published monthly in In Good Health newpaper.