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January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about this common eye condition and some of the most common myths surrounding it.
Glaucoma is not just a disease of older people. Younger adults can suffer from it, too, and even children can develop some forms of glaucoma.
The best way to prevent glaucoma is to undergo regular eye exams.
Aging can cause many changes to your eyes — some more noticeable than others. You may have to wear reading glasses to see up close, your eyes might feel drier or more sensitive to light, or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a new eye condition. One of the most common eye conditions that comes with age is glaucoma.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is one of the most common eye conditions people develop as they age. More than 3 million people in the U.S. have some type of glaucoma. This condition happens because extra eye pressure damages the optic nerve, which is the part of your eye that connects it to the brain. If you don’t treat glaucoma, it can cause permanent blindness.
In this article, we’re debunking some of the common myths related to glaucoma and giving you the facts about this potentially devastating eye condition.
Myth: Glaucoma is only found in older people
Fact: While glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in older people, it can occur in people of any age. It may be present in a newborn baby or develop in a child’s first few years of life. Certain types of glaucoma can also affect people ages 20 to 50 years old.
Myth: Surgery can cure glaucoma
Fact: While some surgical procedures can keep glaucoma from becoming worse and help lower the pressure in your eye, there is no surgery that can completely cure it.
Some of the surgeries that doctors use to treat glaucoma include:
- Trabeculectomy — During this procedure, the surgeon creates a tiny opening in the top of the eye, under the eyelid. The opening allows fluid to drain away, which lowers the pressure in your eye.
- Glaucoma implant surgery — This procedure can treat congenital glaucoma, neovascular glaucoma and glaucoma caused by an injury. The surgeon implants a tiny tube onto the white of the eye to help drain fluid.
- Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) — This refers to a group of treatments that use tiny incisions and equipment to treat glaucoma, while also reducing some of the side effects of the disease.
Myth: The tests used to detect glaucoma are painful
Fact: All of the tests that doctors use to detect glaucoma are painless. The two most common tests are tonometry and ophthalmoscopy:
- Tonometry — During this test, the doctor or technician uses eye drops to numb the eye, then presses a small device called a tonometer against the cornea to measure the eye’s inner pressure. This test also can use a puff of air rather than eye drops to measure the pressure.
- Ophthalmoscopy — This procedure examines the optic nerve for glaucoma damage. The doctor or technician uses eye drops to dilate the eye, then uses a small device with a light on the end to see the optic nerve more clearly, allowing them to examine its shape and color.
Myth: Cataracts can progress into glaucoma
Fact: Cataracts and glaucoma are two completely different conditions. While glaucoma is related to the pressure of the eye, a cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. However, both glaucoma and cataracts share common risk factors, such as increasing age, diabetes, high blood pressure and a previous eye injury. Because of this, many people who have cataracts also have glaucoma.
Myth: You will notice the symptoms of glaucoma right away
Fact: Open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common type, can sneak up on a person. You can have completely normal vision and still suffer from glaucoma. Eventually, however, the symptoms will show up, and once your eyes have been damaged, it’s difficult to regain the sight you lost. That’s why it’s so important to get your eyes examined regularly.
The best way to monitor for glaucoma is to have a regular eye exam. The National Eye Institute advises that most people need a full eye exam with dilation every one to two years. Dilation lets more light into your eye, so your doctor can see if there are any problems or warnings of a serious eye condition.
With glaucoma, you likely won’t notice signs and symptoms until you start having vision problems. You can lose more than 40% of your vision without noticing, and you won’t get that vision back. Having a routine eye exam is the best way to prevent vision loss. At Providence, we have trained eye specialists and ophthalmology services that can help.
Certain risk factors can make you more likely to get glaucoma, including:
- Being African American and over age 40
- Being over age 60
- Having a family history of glaucoma
- Having diabetes
- Engaging in long-term steroid use
Ways to lower your risk include:
- Protecting your eyes with sunglasses or a hat in the sun
- Eating healthy, especially dark, leafy greens
- Not smoking, or quitting if you do
- Getting regular, dilated eye exams
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.