An Eye Exam Can Save Your Sight
Researchers estimate that more than 1.5 million Americans are living with glaucoma and don’t even know it. One of them could be you.
Anyone can get glaucoma, but our chances of being diagnosed with this sight-stealing disease increase as we age. That’s one reason why regular eye exams are so important, especially for older adults.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, according to the World Health Organization, and January is set aside each year as a time to learn about the importance of early detection. Known as the “sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma often shows no symptoms until it already has stolen a person’s ability to see. And by that time, the damage is done.
But found early through a quick and painless eye exam, glaucoma can be treated and sight can be saved.
Vision loss due to glaucoma is caused by pressure that builds up in the eye and eventually damages the optic nerve. The Glaucoma Foundation explains the disease by comparing the eye to a balloon. As a balloon fills with too much liquid or gas, it pops. But the eye is too strong to pop, so when pressure inside the eye becomes too much, it escapes out of the weakest point – the spot where the optic nerve meets the eye.
Damage to the optic nerve is irreversible, but with early detection doctors can control pressure and often prevent sight loss with eye drops, pills, surgery, or a combination of the three.
While physical symptoms of glaucoma are few and uncommon, there are signs that could point to a problem. Severe eye pain can be a sign, as can loss of peripheral vision.
A person who turns his or her head to the side in order to see might be compensating for a loss of peripheral vision – often the first visible symptom of the disease. The person might be doing this without even knowing it. Caregivers and family members should watch for such behavior and be aware that it could be a sign of vision loss.
In addition to age, other risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Regular, long-term steroid/cortisone use
- A previous eye injury
- A family history of glaucoma
- Extremely high or low blood pressure
- Race (the disease is more common among African American, Asian and Latino populations)
To protect yourself, schedule an eye exam. People younger than 40 who have no trouble seeing should see an eye doctor every three to four years. The Glaucoma Foundation suggests those with any of the previously mentioned risk factors see a doctor every 1 ½ to 2 years. After 40, everyone should see an eye doctor every 1 ½ to 2 years and annually if at higher risk of developing the disease.