Prevent glaucoma through regular eye exams


In this article:

  • The best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma is by seeing your eye doctor for regular exams.

  • Glaucoma can occur in people of any age, including infants.

  • Some types of glaucoma can sneak up on people, which is why it is important to get tested regularly.

Glaucoma prevention: Understanding risks and protecting your vision

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, and Providence providers want you to be aware of what it is and how you can protect your vision.

What is glaucoma? An overview

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. 

Can you prevent glaucoma? Facts vs. fiction

While ophthalmologists don’t know how to stop glaucoma from developing, the American Academy of Ophthalmology offers these recommendations for preventing vision loss.

Regular eye exams: Your first line of defense

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.

“Glaucoma can often progress without pain or obvious symptoms which make it hard to self-monitor,” said Meng Lu, M.D., ophthalmologist and glaucoma and cataract specialist with Providence’s Pacific Medical Centers Specialty Care. “Any vision lost to glaucoma is irreversible, so it is critical to see your eye doctor on a regular basis to catch glaucoma early.”

Lifestyle adjustments for glaucoma prevention

In addition to seeing your eye doctor regularly, you also can make lifestyle adjustments for the general health of your eyes.

1.     Eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and colored fruits every day.

2.     Participating in moderate (not intense) exercise to get more blood flow to the optic nerve.

3.     Wearing protective eyewear when participating in sports and working around your house.

4.     Not placing your head in a downward position for a long period of time.

5.     Avoiding sleeping with your eye against the pillow or on your arm.

6.     Protecting your eyes from sunlight with UV protection glasses or sunglasses.

Debunking myths about glaucoma

You may think you know a lot about glaucoma, but there are many myths out there that just aren’t true.

Myth 1: 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 2: 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 trap door on the white part of the eye under the eyelid, allowing fluid to drain out of the eye, lowering the eye pressure.
  • Glaucoma implant surgery — During this procedure, the surgeon implants a tiny tube into the eye to help drain fluid out of the eye.
  • Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) — These are minimally invasive surgeries that may be done individually or in combination with cataract surgery to reduce eye pressure. They often have faster healing times than the above surgeries.

Myth 3: 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.
  • Ophthalmoscopy — During this exam, the doctor uses a light to examine the optic nerve for signs of glaucoma damage.
  • Visual Field Test – This test looks for peripheral vision loss, which can often be seen initially in glaucoma. The patient looks at a dot in the center of a screen and pushes a button every time a light flashes.

Myth 4: 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, and a previous eye injury. Because of this, many people who have cataracts also have glaucoma.

Myth 5: 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. That’s why it’s so important to get your eyes examined regularly.

Staying proactive about eye health with Providence

At Providence, we have trained eye specialists that can help you stay on top of your eye health. “While we can’t prevent glaucoma, we can treat it as early as possible to save your vision,” Dr. Lu.

Contributing caregiver

Meng Lu, M.D., ophthalmologist and glaucoma and cataract specialist with Pacific Medical Centers Specialty Care at Providence

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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