Take steps now to protect your vision

Prevent glaucoma from damaging your eyes

close up of eyeIf you haven’t had an eye exam recently, you may not know if you have glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness.

Glaucoma isn’t just one disease. It’s a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve and destroys eyesight. But it’s painless, and without annual vision exams, people with glaucoma may not even realize they have it until the damage has already been done.

In fact, the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health reports that nearly half of the more than 4 million people in the US with glaucoma may not even know they have it.

That’s why January has been designated Glaucoma Awareness Month. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a comprehensive eye exam every three to five years for all adults beginning at 40 if they don’t have risk factors for glaucoma. And at age 60, exams should be every year.

Glaucoma risk factors

Your eye professional will want to know if you have any of the following risk factors, since glaucoma can destroy vision before you experience any symptoms.

  • Internal eye pressure higher than normal
    Not everyone with elevated pressure develops glaucoma, but it does present an increased risk. This can be checked during your eye exam
  • Age
    The risk goes up for everyone older than 60.
  • Ethnic background
    African-Americans are five times more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians. They are also more likely to develop blindness because of glaucoma. The risk is also higher for Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans.
  • Family history of glaucoma
    Researchers believe there may be a defect in one or more genes that could cause some people to be susceptible to glaucoma, so if someone in your family has glaucoma, your risk is higher.
  • Medical conditions
    Diabetes and hypothyroidism increases the risk for glaucoma. Sever eye injuries, tumors, inflammations and certain types of eye surgeries can also increase your risk.
  • Nearsightedness
    Your risk goes up if you have high myopia.
  • Use of corticosteroids
    If you have been using corticosteroids, particularly corticosteroids eyedrops, for a prolonged period of time, you have a higher risk of getting secondary glaucoma.

Glaucoma symptoms

There are two common types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and acute angle-closure glaucoma. And the symptoms are different for each.

Primary open-angle glaucoma symptoms

  • Gradual loss of peripheral vision, usually in both eyes
  • Tunnel vision in the advanced stages

Acute angle-closure glaucoma symptoms

  • Severe eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting (accompanying the severe eye pain)
  • Sudden onset of visual disturbance, often in low light
  • Blurred vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Reddening of the eye

What to do

Ask your doctor about when to see an ophthalmologist. If you don’t already have one, ask for a referral.

During your appointment, have this information ready for the  ophthalmologist:

  • Symptoms you’ve been having and how long
  • Key medical information, including diagnoses, medications and supplements
  • History of eye problems, such as vision changes or discomfort
  • Questions for the doctor

Questions might include:

  1. Do I have signs of glaucoma?
  2. What tests do I need to confirm a diagnosis?
  3. What treatment approach do you recommend?
  4. How often should I be seen for follow-up care?
  5. I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?

For more information about glaucoma, check out these online references: