January is Glaucoma Awareness Month which means it’s the perfect time to learn more about this often symptom-free cause of vision loss. As a patient with optic atrophy, one of the hallmarks of glaucoma, I’m intensely passionate about building awareness of the importance of routine exam eyes. Read on to learn more.
For those who may not know, glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide with over 76 million patients impacted.
Technically speaking, glaucoma includes a number of diseases that result in damage to the optic nerve which connects the eyes to the brain. Damage is caused by increased pressure in the front of the eye which results from an increase in fluid build up. When left untreated, this can eventually damage the optic nerves and result in irreversible vision loss.
Glaucoma is a chronic condition which means it stays with you for life. When properly treated, vision loss can often be prevented or slowed. Glaucoma often displays no signs or symptoms until the condition has significantly progressed.
In order to accurately diagnose glaucoma, your eye doctor will perform a number of tests:
- Ophthalmoscopy: The shape and color of the optic nerve is reviewed for damage. After this exam, you’re eyes will be sensitive so you’ll want to wear sunglasses for a few hours
- Tonometry: This test measures eye pressure. The average range is 12-22 mm Hg though it is possible to develop glaucoma when pressures fall in this range
- Perimetry: This is sort of like a video game where you’re handed a clicker and asked to stare straight ahead. When a spot of light appears, you click
- Gonioscopy: Here, your doctor will use a purpose-built lens to visualize the angle between your iris and cornea
- Pachymetry: This test measures corneal thickness
If a diagnosis of glaucoma is made, your doctor will work with you to tailor the most appropriate course of treatment which may include eye drops; a variety of laser surgeries; and implantable products designed to reduce pressure in the eye and ultimately slow or potentially halt disease progression.
Since there are relatively few outward signs and symptoms of vision loss, glaucoma is often called the Silent Thief of Sight. That's why it's so important to build awareness. Here are a few things you can do to help your friends and neighbors preserve their eyesight:
- Talk, talk, talk! Both about glaucoma itself and the importance of getting screened for symptom-free vision loss
- If your eyes are healthy, be sure to keep up on your routine eye exams. These typically happen every two years. They’re a great excuse for a new pair of glasses if that’s your thing
- If you’re having trouble with your vision, be sure to tell your eye care professional as you may require specialized testing or treatment
For more information, be sure to visit the Glaucoma Research Foundation's website at www.glaucoma.org. If you'd like to read about optic atrophy from the patient’s perspective, please visit http://richiekahn.wordpress.com