More than 2.7 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, and that includes 55,000 people in Tennessee.
“Glaucoma is a silent blinder disease because most people won’t have any symptoms,” says Dr. Steven Anderson, a medical director at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee who specializes in ophthalmology. “But it’s the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, so it’s crucial we pick it up early, which we can do at annual exams.”
Here’s what you need to know about glaucoma now.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is usually an increased pressure within the eye that results in a deterioration of your eye’s optic nerve — the part that transmits images to your brain. Glaucoma occurs when the eye’s drainage system becomes clogged, and a buildup of pressure damages the sensitive nerve. That results in vision loss.
The majority of glaucoma cases — 90% — are “open-angle.” That means the angle where the iris meets the cornea is as wide and open as it should be, yet drainage still accumulates over time and causes a blockage. The fact that there’s nothing obvious getting in the way of your eye properly draining is one reason doctors can’t diagnose it in advance.
Is anyone more at-risk for glaucoma?
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but certain groups of people face higher risk than others. You are far more likely to get glaucoma if you are:
- Over age 60
- Related to someone who has glaucoma
- A steroid user
Other risk factors include sports-related eye injuries, nearsightedness and high blood pressure.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
Most people don’t have any. Increased eye pressure is so subtle that it doesn’t cause pain, and vision loss creeps in slowly on the periphery. Some people may compensate for the loss subconsciously by turning their heads to the side to see, but most people won’t notice anything until significant vision is lost.
How do you treat glaucoma?
Glaucoma has no cure, and you can’t regain vision once you’ve lost it — but it is treatable. That’s why early diagnosis is so crucial.
If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately. Doctors can monitor your condition and recommend medication and/or surgery to halt further vision loss.
To learn more 9 more conditions an annual eye exam can catch, click here.