Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.
What is glaucoma?
In glaucoma, the optic nerve, the main nerve in the eye, is damaged by increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, or pressure within the eye This can lead to vision loss or even blindness. Initially, there may be no symptoms, but over time, patients with glaucoma may develop tunnel vision. In other words, the middle of their visual field looks clear, but the periphery looks blurred. However, glaucoma has the potential to ultimately lead to blindness.
While many people with glaucoma are middle-age or older, this disease can impact people throughout the spectrum of life.
“Every twelve hours, for the rest of my life, I will put medicinal drops in my eyes. Some may view this as one of life's inconveniences. I view it as a blessing!” says Samuel Polakoff, Chairman of the Board of the Polakoff Foundation, a Baltimore, Maryland-based foundation which educates individuals about glaucoma thru text, podcasts, and videos, and provides free community screenings.
“ At the tender age of 27, I went to my ophthalmologist for a routine eye exam. I was the average twenty-something who felt immortal (although I was extremely nearsighted). I thought I simply needed a new prescription for stronger eyeglasses. I left the doctor's office with the label of "glaucoma suspect."
He underwent semi-annual screenings for 11 years before being officially diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 38.
Who is at increased risk?
People who are 60 years old or older
Those with a family history of glaucoma
Those who have used steroid medications for a long time
Those who are extremely nearsighted or farsighted
Those with a history of severe trauma to the eye
Other possible risk factors include the following – myopia, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and hypothyroidism
Is this condition treatable?
Yes, glaucoma can be treated by eye drops, laser therapy or surgery. Unfortunately, once vision is lost, it cannot be restored by any of these treatments.
When should I get screened?
Everyone over 40 years of age should have a comprehensive eye examination by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist who is knowledgeable about glaucoma, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). For those between 40 and 60 years of age with no additional risk factors for glaucoma should be screened every three to five years.It is important to note that a significant number of patients will have normal intraocular pressure (IOP) screening for glaucoma should not rely solely on measuring this pressure. After the age of 60, screening should be performed every one to two years. In addition, since glaucoma is more common in African Americans, the AAO recommends periodic examination for black men and women between 20 to 39 years of age.