Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in the U.S, just behind diabetic eye disease. It affects an estimated 3 million Americans, and the National Eye Institute estimates that this number will increase 4.2 million Americans by 2030 because of the aging population.
Glaucoma is highly correlated with eye pressure, so having a higher than average eye pressure is a major risk factor for developing the disease. Overtime, glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which is the nerve at the back of your eye that sends light signals to your brain so you can see.
The disease usually develops slowly and symptoms often aren’t noticed until permanent damage has already occurred. In fact, glaucoma is often referred to as the “silent thief of sight” because vision loss occurs without previous, obvious warning symptoms.
When patients hear this alarming fact about glaucoma, they often ask what they can do to prevent the disease. While you can’t prevent being at risk for developing glaucoma, there are measures you can take to prevent permanent vision loss from the progression of glaucoma. Let’s start with understanding whether or not you are at a higher risk of developing glaucoma, and then what you can do about it.
Certain groups of the population have a higher risk of developing glaucoma, and if you fall into one of those categories then it’s wise to start having annual comprehensive eye exams if you don’t already. If glaucoma is detected early, you have a better chance of preventing vision loss.
Those with a higher risk of developing glaucoma include:
- Anyone with a family history of the disease.
- Anyone with high eye pressure.
- Anyone who is diabetic.
- Anyone over the age of 40
- African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos have a higher risk with age.
If you fall into one or more of those population groups, talk with an ophthalmologist about your elevated risk for developing glaucoma. It’s important to note that you’ll need to see an ophthalmologist for a thorough glaucoma screening. Optometrists are trained to diagnose and treat vision problems such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, while ophthalmologists are trained to diagnose and treat more complex eye conditions, such as glaucoma.
Treatments To Prevent Vision Loss
As explained above, it’s too late to prevent vision loss if you simply wait for symptoms of glaucoma to appear. Only a comprehensive eye exam, including dilating the eyes, is effective in evaluating the optic nerve for signs of damage from early stage glaucoma.
If glaucoma is caught early, it’s possible to begin treatment to help preserve your vision. There are a number of oral medications to reduce elevated eye pressure and prevent damage to the optic nerve. You may be prescribed a combination of medications, or may need to change your prescription to increase effectiveness as time goes on. Your eye doctor will also likely recommend that you use prescription eye drops formulated to reduce pressure in the eye.
However, if oral medications and eye drops don’t control your glaucoma, surgery may be recommended. There are various surgical procedures for glaucoma, including laser surgeries and incisional surgeries, depending on the severity of the disease.
The most important takeaway is that you’re not doomed to permanent vision loss or blindness if you do develop glaucoma, as long as it’s detected in the earlier stages. Once vision loss does occur, it’s permanent.
Getting evaluated for glaucoma and following any treatment plan that your eye doctor recommends are the keys to preserving your eyesight.
East Tennessee Eye Surgeons specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of both common and more complex eye diseases like glaucoma. With two locations at 7800 Conner Road in Powell and 744 Middle Creek Road, Suite 200 in Sevierville, East Tennessee Eye Surgeons delivers the highest quality eye care in an exceptional setting. Visit our website to learn more about us, or call us at 865-546-1464 (Powell) or 865-908-7008 (Sevierville).