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Early Detection is Key with Glaucoma

by UPMC Susquehanna

Ophthalmologist, UPMC Susquehanna
 
As we ring in the New Year, it’s an excellent time to make a resolution toward better eye health. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and many people do not realize that glaucoma refers to a diverse group of diseases causing damage to the optic nerve in the eye. This damage can lead to permanent loss of vision.
 
Glaucoma tends to develop slowly without causing noticeable vision loss in the early stages. By the time changes in vision become evident to the patient, the condition is typically very advanced. When it goes untreated or inadequately treated, it can lead to irreversible blindness.
 
Early detection is the best way to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma. The most important step you can take is to have a complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Don’t confuse this exam with a vision exam that evaluates only your prescription for eye glasses or contact lenses. During a glaucoma screening exam, the doctor will measure the pressure in your eye because elevated eye pressure is a significant risk factor for the development of glaucoma. The doctor will also dilate your pupils to provide an adequate view and assessment of the health of the optic nerve. The exam also includes inspection of the drainage channel in the eye, testing of your peripheral (side) vision, and measurement of the thickness of the cornea.
 
When should you get screened?
 
Individuals with good eye health should have a complete eye exam at least once in their 20s and twice in their 30s. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a baseline comprehensive eye exam at age 40. After that exam, you should continue with follow-up exams at intervals recommended based on your test results, family history, or other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that can increase your risk for eye disease. If you are over 65, or considered high risk for glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam every year.
 
What causes glaucoma?
 
Glaucoma is often hereditary but it can also be caused by medications, prior eye surgeries, or an injury to the eye. The most common type of glaucoma is called open angle glaucoma. The first symptoms of this condition are often patchy blind spots in your peripheral vision. In an advanced stage of this type of glaucoma, you might experience tunnel vision. A less common form of the disease called, acute angle-closure glaucoma, often has a more rapid onset. You should seek immediate medical care if you experiencing a combination of some of the following symptoms:
 
• Severe headache
• Eye pain
• Nausea/vomiting
• Blurred vision
• Haloes around lights
• Eye redness
 
With a diagnosis of glaucoma, you will need to follow-up with your ophthalmologist at regular intervals to determine the best course of treatment and ensure that your treatments are working effectively. All glaucoma treatments are aimed at protecting the patient from further, irreversible vision loss. Daily eye drops that help reduce the pressure in your eye are typically the first line of treatment followed by laser treatments and incisional surgical procedures.
 
While there is no cure for glaucoma, these treatments can slow its progression and prevent further vision loss to reduce the likelihood of significant visual disability resulting from the disease over a patient’s lifetime. If you are due for a glaucoma screening, make a resolution to reach out to your eye doctor today!
 
Dr. David Cute is an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist at UPMC Susquehanna Ophthalmology treating glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and many other eye diseases and disorders. For more information or to make an appointment, call 570-320-7850.