Regular medical checkups are a must to ensure good health and should include eye exams that screen for glaucoma.
“Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness globally,” says Ashley Huynh, O.D., an Optometric Glaucoma Specialist at Kelsey-Seybold’s Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center. “In the United States alone, more than 3 million people are living with the condition. The disease often strikes without pain or other symptoms, which is why regular eye exams are vital for early detection of glaucoma, which currently has no cure.”
Glaucoma most often occurs in individuals over the age of 40, but can, and does, strike people of all ages from babies to older adults, explains Dr. Huynh. It is caused when pressure builds up inside of the eye, causing progressive damage to the optic nerve and loss of nerve fibers. This may result in vision loss and even blindness in the case of advanced glaucoma.
Tests for glaucoma are simple and can be performed by either an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
“During your appointment, your doctor may typically check the pressure within your eye, measure your central corneal thickness, and conduct a vision field test to check for glaucoma,” Dr. Huynh says.
Early diagnosis of the condition means earlier intervention, which may help slow or prevent further loss of vision, Dr. Huynh says. It is recommended that those with high risk factors for glaucoma have an annual comprehensive dilated eye examination, unless otherwise directed by their physician. Anyone who has a family history of glaucoma, has used steroids, has had previous eye injuries, has high blood pressure or diabetes, or is African-American, Hispanic, or Asian is at a higher risk for having the condition.
For patients without these risk factors, the Glaucoma Research Foundation recommends regular eye exams every two to four years before the age of 40, one to three years between the ages of 40 and 54, one to two years from the ages of 55 to 64, and six to 12 months after the age of 65.
When glaucoma is detected, medications, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of these, may be recommended to lower intraocular pressure and help control further worsening of the condition. In most cases, medication can safely control eye pressure for many years when taken as prescribed. The type of treatment prescribed will depend on the stage of glaucoma.
“Unfortunately, sight loss experienced from glaucoma cannot currently be reversed. On the positive side, with the ongoing care of an optometrist or ophthalmologist, many people with glaucoma can continue to live life fully. So, if you’ve been putting off your eye exam, schedule an appointment today,” Dr. Huynh recommends.