Glaucoma can slowly, silently dim your vision

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the globe. According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma—but only half of them know it. So even if you experience excellent vision, seeing your eye care doctor regularly is vitally important.

Your optometrist will track your vision health over time, record changes and answer your questions. A thorough annual eye exam can detect early signs of eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

With cataracts, a common result of aging, the lenses in your eyes become cloudy over time, decreasing your visual acuity and adding glare. Cataracts are easily corrected with implants. Glaucoma, on the other hand, is sometimes called “the silent thief of sight” for good reason: it can sneak up on you without symptoms and cause partial vision loss or blindness. Your best defense is early detection and treatment.

Glaucoma is a set of diseases that damage the optic nerve in the eye. It can occur in one eye or both. With glaucoma, fluid in the eye is not draining properly, and this alters the pressure in the eye. When eye pressure rises, the optic nerve at the back of the eye can be injured. This leads to vision impairment or blindness. Most cases of glaucoma are treated with drops to lower the pressure; occasionally, laser or surgical means are needed to lower the pressure.

Patients typically have one of two types of glaucoma. With open-angle glaucoma, the disease progresses slowly and has no obvious symptoms. Vision remains normal, and the patient feels no pain. Over time, however, the patient’s field of vision narrows at the sides. This change can be imperceptible to the patient, but eventually he or she may notice a smaller field of vision or experience “tunnel vision.” If the disease is detected too late, total vision loss can occur.

A second, rarer type of glaucoma is called narrow-angle or angle-closure glaucoma. With this fast-developing medical emergency, eye pressure increases suddenly. The patient may experience pain and redness in one or both eyes. Nausea and blurred vision may also be present. Whenever you experience a sudden change in vision, it is crucial that you see your optometrist or go to an emergency room at once. A typical eye exam is painless and measures several factors. Your eyes will be dilated, which means the provider will put drops in your eyes to dilate (or widen) your pupils. This allows the doctor to see more of your inner eye. Using a magnifying lens, your doctor will look at your lens, retina, optical nerve and other elements of each eye. The pressure in your eyes will be measured. Your provider also will measure your near and distance vision.

If glaucoma is caught early, you may be able to avoid critical vision loss. Make sure to schedule a regular exam with your eye care professional.