Glaucoma is a commonly misunderstood disease. Most of us have heard the word glaucoma, but many could not tell you much about it beyond the name. Glaucoma is actually a family of diseases that all ultimately result in damage to the optic nerve that can lead to progressive vision loss, typically starting with peripheral vision. The risk of glaucoma increases with elevated intraocular (inside the eye) pressure, but some people will develop glaucoma even with normal eye pressure.
Glaucoma is estimated to affect more than three million Americans, many unaware that they have it, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. It is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. as well as worldwide. The earlier the diagnosis is made, however, the less likely you are to develop functional vision loss. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the most common, chronic forms of glaucoma.
One of the most important things to understand about the disease is that in the most common type of glaucoma, until late in the disease, there are no symptoms; there is no way to tell if you have it. This is due to the slow-moving nature of the disease, and the gradual vision loss starting in the far periphery, which goes unnoticed. However, once the vision loss is noticeable, the damage is irreversible and treatment can only aim to prevent the progression of the vision loss.
Screening and Diagnosis
Your eye doctor will monitor for glaucoma as part of a routine dilated exam. This should be done at least every two years over the age of 60, as this is when the risk of glaucoma and other eye diseases increases. The lack of symptoms cannot be overstated, as many patients avoid exams due to their eyes feeling fine and seeing well.
Diagnosis is often not black and white. There is not a single test that tells us with certainty that a patient does or does not have glaucoma. On the contrary, those who are suspected of glaucoma may be followed for years monitoring for damage to the optic nerve that confirms glaucoma or lack thereof.
Once the diagnosis is made, there is no cure, but treatment aims to lower eye pressure and reduce the risk of vision loss progressing. Glaucoma management requires a deep trust in the managing doctor because a common obstacle in the way of treatment is compliance with prescribed treatment due to this same lack of symptoms.
To schedule an eye exam with Summit Medical Group Oregon’s Ophthalmology and Optometry Department, please call 541-382-4900.