Periodic exams by an ophthalmologist
Here’s an eye-opening statistic: Of the 3 million or so Americans with glaucoma – the second leading cause of blindness – half are walking around undiagnosed. That’s because the most prevalent form of the disease, called primary open-angle glaucoma, shows no symptoms in its early stages. This progressive eye disease can damage the optic nerve, which transmits information from the eye to the brain to form an image.
Glaucoma occurs from a slow, painless buildup of fluid in the eye caused by a compromised drainage pathway, according to Dr. Sarwat Salim, a Milwaukee ophthalmologist. That fluid increases “intraocular pressure,” or IOP, which over enough time leads to optic nerve damage and vision loss. “The first hint that something is wrong is the gradual loss of peripheral [side] vision, but typically people don’t know they have it until the vision loss is severe,” Salim says. Risk factors for glaucoma include advanced age, a family history of glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes, long-term steroid use or being of African or Latino descent.
While glaucoma can’t be prevented or cured, it can usually be controlled with prescription eye drops. (If not, a laser or surgical procedure is required.) This is why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist every two years starting at age 40, or earlier if you’re at risk. This exam includes a visual acuity test, tonometry (to measure IOP), gonioscopy (to assess the drainage pathway), an inspection of the optic nerve and a visual field test to gauge loss of peripheral vision.