QUESTION: What are the warning signs for glaucoma? My 65-year-old brother lost some of his vision because of it but never had a clue anything was wrong. Could I be at risk, too?
ANSWER: It’s called the “silent thief of sight” for a reason. With no early warning signs or pain, most people who have glaucoma don’t realize it until their vision begins to deteriorate. Here’s what you should know.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness if it’s not treated. This typically happens because the fluids in the eye don’t drain properly, causing increased pressure in the eyeball.
There are two main types of glaucoma, but the most common form that typically affects older people is called open-angle glaucoma. This disease develops very slowly when the eye’s drainage canals become clogged over time, leading to blind spots in the peripheral or side vision. By the time you notice it, the damage is permanent.
Are you at-risk?
It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but that number is expected to surge to more than 4 million by 2030. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you’re at increased risk of developing it.
Are you African-American, Hispanic/Latino American or Asian-American?
Are you over age 60?
Do you have an immediate family member with glaucoma?
Do you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, migraines or extreme nearsightedness?
Have you had an eye injury? Have you used corticosteroids (for example, eye drops, pills, inhalers and creams) for long periods of time?
What to do
Early detection is the key to guarding against glaucoma. So if you’re age 40 or older and have any of the risk factors (especially if you’re African-American), get a comprehensive eye examination every year or two. Or, if you notice some loss of peripheral vision, get to the eye doctor right away.
If you are a Medicare beneficiary, annual eye examinations are covered for those at high risk for glaucoma. Or if you don’t have vision coverage, check out EyeCare America, a national program that provides free glaucoma eye exams and doesn’t have income requirements. Visit EyeCareAmerica.org or call (877) 887-6327 to learn more.
Although there’s no cure for glaucoma, most cases can be treated with prescription eye drops, which reduce eye pressure and can prevent further vision loss. It cannot, however, restore vision already lost from glaucoma. If eye drops don’t work, your doctor may recommend oral medication, laser treatments, incisional surgery or a combination of these methods.
For more information on glaucoma, visit the National Eye Institute at NEI.nih.gov and the Glaucoma Research Foundation at Glaucoma.org.