Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S., affecting about 2.7 million people. Still, as common as it is, the CDC estimates only half of those 2.7 million people know they have the disease, which means they’re at risk for permanent vision loss — and they don’t even know it. If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma or if you have risk factors for the disease, seeing a glaucoma specialist is the best way to make sure you get the most appropriate care to preserve your sight and your quality of life. Here’s how the glaucoma specialists at Paragon Eye Associates can help you prevent irreversible vision loss.
Glaucoma: Causes and risk factors
Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve, which transmits visual data to your brain where it’s processed into images. There are three main “types” of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma (the most common type), angle-closure (or acute) glaucoma and normal tension glaucoma.
- Open-angle glaucoma occurs when the fluid inside your eye doesn’t drain the way it’s supposed to. As the fluid builds up, it exerts excess pressure on your optic nerve. This type of glaucoma usually occurs because the channels that normally drain the eye become blocked or narrowed, most often as a result of age-related changes in the eye.
- Angle-closure glaucoma is much less common; in fact, it’s pretty rare. In angle-closure glaucoma, the opening between your iris and your cornea is much narrower than normal, making it more difficult for fluid inside your eye to drain. While open-angle glaucoma usually develops slowly over time, angle-closure glaucoma develops very rapidly and requires immediate treatment to prevent irreversible vision loss.
- Normal tension glaucoma also causes damage to the optic nerve, but this type of glaucoma is associated with much lower pressures inside the eye. Researchers still don’t know what causes normal-tension glaucoma, but they do know it’s more common among people with a family history of the disease, those of Japanese ancestry, and people with certain types of heart disease.
Glaucoma is associated with certain risk factors that make the disease more likely. These include:
- being age 60 or older
- family history of glaucoma
- being very farsighted or very nearsighted
- thin corneas
- previous eye injury or eye surgery
- certain systemic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease
- long-term use of corticosteroid medications (especially eye drops containing steroids)
Having routine screenings is especially important if you have any of these risk factors.
How a specialist manages and prevents glaucoma
Even though glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. and worldwide, it can be treated. And if you catch it early, you can avoid vision loss entirely. So if glaucoma can be successfully treated, why does it cause so much vision loss? Simple: Because in the early stages, glaucoma typically causes very subtle symptoms — or more often, no symptoms at all. That’s why so many people don’t know they have glaucoma, and probably won’t know until they have some type of vision loss caused by the disease. Because glaucoma tends to cause no symptoms early on, it’s often referred to as the “silent thief of sight.”
Fortunately, even though you may not notice the early stages of glaucoma, an eye doctor who's trained in glaucoma diagnosis and management can. Glaucoma specialists are trained in special techniques that have proven to be very effective in spotting the very early signs of glaucoma — changes inside your eye that begin even before you notice any differences in your vision. If you’ve ever had a comprehensive eye exam, you’ve probably had an eye pressure test. That’s one important tool for diagnosing glaucoma, but a glaucoma specialist uses other tests and instruments as well. These tests can identify glaucoma symptoms even when your eye pressure is not dramatically elevated, and they can also measure the structure inside your eye to determine if you’re at risk for the disease. Plus, a glaucoma specialist understands the most advanced techniques for preventing vision loss no matter how far glaucoma has progressed, so you can get the care you need to maintain your sight.
Take care of your eyes
Having routine vision exams is always important, but it's especially critical if you have glaucoma or if you're at risk for the disease. The glaucoma specialists at Paragon Eye Associates are skilled at helping patients understand their risks for glaucoma and at providing the custom care solutions designed to help every patient manage their disease and maintain their sight. Take good care of your vision — contact the practice and schedule your eye exam today.