Check your vision before glaucoma damages it

February 17, 2017 Providence Health Team

If you don’t get tested, you may not know you have glaucoma until your vision is permanently damaged.

“It’s just like having high blood pressure, right? You wouldn’t necessarily know you have high blood pressure unless you get it checked,” said Danny Kim, M.D., a glaucoma fellowship-trained ophthalmologist with Facey Medical Group, a Providence partner in Southern California.

“Normal pressure in your eye is considered to be between 10 to 21 millimeters of mercury. You could go walking around with an eye pressure of 40, and you wouldn’t necessarily feel it or know it.”

But if you have glaucoma and it isn’t treated, you could cause irreversible damage to your eye – specifically to your optic nerve. Once it’s been damaged, the damage is irreversible.

A coming wave of glaucoma cases

The National Eye Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, made headlines when it suggested that the number of Americans with glaucoma is likely to double. The institute said more than 2.7 million Americans over age 40 have glaucoma. That number is expected to more than double by 2050.

“Most of the projected increases in prevalence of conditions related to age (AMD, glaucoma, cataracts) are due to the aging of the U.S. population,” said institute spokesman Joe Balintfy.

While glaucoma can strike anyone, older people are more susceptible to the build-up of pressure in their eyes. Other high-risk groups are people who have a family history of glaucoma and African-Americans over the age of 40.

Dr. Kim and other experts say: Get tested. Specifically he says you should get tested:

  • Every two to four years before the age of 40
  • Every one to three years from ages 40 to 54
  • Every year or two from ages 55 to 64
  • Every year from age 64 onward

If you are due for a test, or if your family history suggests you should be tested more frequently, see your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider who can treat you or refer you to a specialist by consulting our directory.

What is glaucoma, and how is it treated?

Your eye naturally generates a fluid called the aqueous humor that circulates in the front of the eye. The fluid provides nutrients to the cornea and lens, maintains eye pressure, and helps to fight infection. Typically the fluid drains into a system called the trabecular meshwork, but the meshwork can become clogged as you age, causing the pressure inside the eye to slowly increase. If the drainage system becomes completely blocked, the pressure build-up can cause extreme pain and create a medical emergency.

During an exam, ophthalmologists check the pressure in your eye and also examine the optic nerve and the drainage system.

If your fluid pressure is higher than it should be, your ophthalmologist will talk to you about treatment options. He or she may give you glaucoma eye drops to reduce the amount of fluid your eye produces or may recommend laser surgery to improve the eye’s drainage system. The goal is to lower your eye pressure to prevent or minimize further optic nerve damage and vision loss.

Most people with glaucoma don’t notice any symptoms until they start to lose some of their sight. Common symptoms include:

  • Small blind spots
  • Blurred or narrowed vision
  • Severe pain in the eyes
  • Haloes or rainbows around lights
  • Nausea
  • Headache

Left untreated, glaucoma can leave you blind.

The best course of action, says Dr. Kim, is preventive care: “You should get routinely checked.”

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