As people are living to older and older ages, the need to take extra care of your eyes is critical. It is not enough to live longer, but rather, we should be focused on the quality of those years gained and having your eyesight is a critical part of your health and the enjoyment you will derive in your senior years.
Glaucoma is one of those conditions that can rob seniors of their eyesight and is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. Glaucoma usually causes no symptoms in the early stages but can ultimately be vision threatening long term without treatment. It is characterized usually, but not always, by elevated intraocular pressure when either too much fluid is produced in the eye or the drainage of the eye becomes blocked. The elevated intraocular pressure can cause damage to the Optic Nerve with vision impairment and even blindness and is irreversible. It is a complicated disease which has a genetic predisposition. While there are treatments, there is no cure. Prevention is the rule of thumb for avoiding this condition that robs over 60 million people of their eyesight.
Currently, according to Dr. Lynn Marie DiMartino of Battle Creek Eye Clinic in Battle Creek, regular eye exams are the best form of prevention for glaucoma . “Early detection and careful, lifelong treatment can preserve sight in most people with glaucoma,” reported Dr. DiMartino. In general, an eye examination for glaucoma should be completed annually.
Those at higher risk include patients over the age of 60, African descent for open angle glaucoma, Asian descent for closed angle glaucoma, elevated intraocular pressure, diabetes and a family history of glaucoma. New research has discovered significant genetic links to the condition. You are at increased risk if you have a parent, brother or sister with glaucoma.
“We are fortunate today to have sophisticated equipment, like the GDX Retinal Nerve Fiber Analyzer and Humphrey Visual Field that we use in our office, that can detect the early signs of glaucoma” stated Dr. DiMartino. “It is important for patients to get a baseline assessment so that as patients age we can track disease progression. The tests conducted for glaucoma measure the corneal thickness, status of the optic nerve, thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer, visual field and intraocular pressure and are painless and take minutes to complete”.
While there are no known ways of preventing glaucoma, if the disease is recognized in the early stages, significant vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented. In its most common form, primary open angle glaucoma, vision loss is unrecognized, slow, and progressive. It typically affects a person’s side vision first (peripheral vision) and as it progresses, central vision can also be lost without treatment.
The available glaucoma medications slow the progression of glaucoma by reducing increased pressure inside of the eye to prevent damage to the optic nerve. Surgical and laser treatments are also available.