Happy New Year! Welcome to the Coleman Eye Center blog!
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, so we are dedicating our first blog post to this eye disease. Glaucoma is a condition we see frequently in our clinic. It is one of the most common eye diseases, yet it is often one of the hardest to understand. To some, it may not seem like a big deal. In reality, it IS a big deal. Let’s look at some numbers to show you just how relevant it can be to your eye health. Did you know that over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those know they have it? Also, did you know glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world? Now you know a few statistics about how common glaucoma can be. Let’s talk about what it is and why it is important to have annual exams to check for it.
What is Glaucoma?
First of all, what is glaucoma? The simple answer is that it is a disease that causes damage to the optic nerve in the eye. The optic nerve plays a vital part in our visual system. It takes the information about what we see to our brain. Therefore, if the optic nerve is damaged, the vision may be damaged as well. Glaucoma rarely causes any immediate symptoms. You won’t feel any eye pain or notice any immediate change in your vision. Glaucoma typically reduces the peripheral vision first. This disease usually causes damage very, very slowly. You may not even be aware it is happening. This means that even if you have perfect vision, you could still have glaucoma. This is why we encourage everyone to get a yearly eye exam, even if you feel like you see great.
Am I at Risk?
Even someone with the healthiest eyes can get glaucoma. There are some risk factors that increase the chance of developing it. Glaucoma typically develops with age, usually over the age of 40. Family history also plays a big role in glaucoma. If you have a parent, grandparent, or sibling that has glaucoma, you too are at an increased risk for developing it. Ethnicity also plays a large role in risk. African Americans are about three times more likely to develop glaucoma than other ethnicities.
Although all these factors are important, the most important thing to remember is that anyone can develop glaucoma any time. Again, that is why we recommend everyone have an annual eye exam, even if you don’t need glasses to help correct your vision. If we diagnose someone with glaucoma or want to monitor someone who is at risk for glaucoma, we normally see them every 4-6 months. At every visit, we monitor the appearance of the optic nerve and the intraocular pressure. Once a year, we also perform some special testing that gives us insight as to if there is any damage to the optic nerve or the peripheral vision. These office visits and special tests allow us to monitor glaucoma to make sure it is not progressing.
How is Glaucoma Treated?
Even though there is no cure for glaucoma, the good news is that it is treatable. Once it occurs, nerve damage is irreversible. The treatment’s goal is not to fix what has already been damaged, but to prevent any further damage from occurring. The way to prevent glaucoma from getting worse is to keep the intraocular pressure (IOP) low. There are a few different treatment options to do this. Glaucoma eye drops have always been the standard of care. There are several types of eye drops which can be used. Some patients need just one, some need a few, and some need them all to get the IOP to a safe level. These drops must be used consistently to work efficiently, and are great treatment options.
Are Eye Drops the Only Treatment Option for Glaucoma?
Some patients, however, have a hard time consistently using eye drops every day. Because of this, we are excited to have a new treatment option that allows us to place a tiny deposit of glaucoma medication in the front part of the eye. It dissolves over about 6-12 months and time-releases the glaucoma medication into the eye without any effort from the patient! It is done with a quick and easy procedure that doesn’t hurt, and it’s so small, it can’t be seen or felt. We are excited about this treatment option, because it makes life a little easier for our patients, and it works very well to help lower the IOP. There are also some surgical options that we can offer at Coleman Eye Center as a stand-alone surgery or along with cataract surgery to help lower the IOP.
Thanks for taking time to read our blog! I hope this has brought a little more understanding about glaucoma, and how important it is to screen for this very common eye disease. The earlier we catch it, the better equipped we are to make sure we treat it appropriately to make sure it doesn’t cause any vision loss. We’re passionate about making sure we are taking the best care of your eyes, and monitoring for glaucoma is a huge part of that.
Dr. Preslee Magee, OD