January is Glaucoma Awareness Month
What Is Glaucoma; and How Is It Treated?
By: Eric Purdy, M.D.
The leading cause of blindness in the United States is glaucoma. Unchecked, the condition and its side effects may result in lifestyle changes or even loss of independence for some people. However, early detection and appropriate treatment can help delay the advancement of symptoms. Most people who are diagnosed and treated early in the onset of this disease are able to slow its progression.
Glaucoma typically occurs when fluid builds up inside the eye, causing pressure on the optic nerve. Those who are at most risk of developing the condition are individuals with one or more of the following characteristics:
- are 60 or older;
- have a family history of glaucoma;
- are of African or Spanish descent;
- have farsightedness or nearsightedness;
- have previous eye injuries; or
- experience health problems such as diabetes or migraines.
There is no cure for glaucoma, which is why an early diagnosis is important. Once the disease is known, surgery, medication, a combination of treatments and physician monitoring can help control additional vision loss.
So what happens after a glaucoma diagnosis? A doctor may decide to perform surgery to release excess pressure on the eye. Depending on the severity of the disease, a physician will perform laser surgery or make a small slit in the eye, called filtering microsurgery. This procedure will relieve pressure on the optic nerve. In the early stages after diagnosis, some patients require monthly or even weekly visits to the doctor to check eye pressure. If caught early enough, a doctor may prescribe medication or eye drops to prevent further loss of vision. Medications are monitored over time, as some patients develop side effects or decreased response to medications.
While glaucoma is not a life-threatening disease, it can significantly impact a person’s day-to-day activities. If you or a family member is experiencing vision loss, please consult your physician. With early diagnosis and treatment, glaucoma should not stop people from enjoying life.