Americans fear the loss of their eyesight more than losing their memory,
according to a recent survey. Yet more than half of the people with glaucoma
-- the second leading cause of blindness -- don’t know their vision
is at risk.
In glaucoma’s early stages, it’s typical for patients to have
very little pain or noticeable vision change. This silent eye disease
steals peripheral vision first then gradually affects central vision.
“What’s unfortunate is that this vision loss is progressive
and irreversible — once the damage is done and the vision is gone,
we can’t bring it back,” says Dr. Adam Miller, a board-certified
ophthalmologist with Cortland Regional Medical Practice.
Glaucoma is a pressure-related eye disease, Dr. Miller says. “Just
as your heart has a blood pressure, your eye has a pressure as well. The
optic nerve transmits sight to the brain; high pressure on that nerve
damages it and limits the information it sends to the brain.” An
imbalance of fluid causes the high pressure inside the eye, which can
lead to what’s known as
Angle-closure glaucoma results from a blockage of the exit pathway, or angle, which causes the
eye pressure to build quickly. This spike in eye pressure damages the
optic nerve and results in rapid and painful vision loss. This version
of glaucoma is more commonly found in individuals who are far-sighted
and can increase as an individual develops a cataract.
Almost anyone can develop glaucoma, but it’s rare to find it in individuals
younger than 40, says Dr. Miller. “A blunt or penetrating injury
to the eye can increase your risk of developing glaucoma, and inherited
forms of the condition also contribute to your risk,” he says. Others
at an increased risk of developing the disease include anyone over age
60, diabetics, and people with a family history of glaucoma.
Most annual eye exams include a check for glaucoma-related changes. Ophthalmologists
measure the eye pressure, look at the structure of the eye to determine
its health, then examine the optic nerve itself to determine if there’s
any thinning or thickening. “Technology helps us assess things in
the eye that a visual exam can’t see,” Dr. Miller says.
If an exam shows evidence of the disease, Dr. Miller says the pace and
risk of progression help determine the course of a patient’s treatment.
“There are three actions we can take — eye drops, laser treatment,
and surgery,” he says. Eye drops, whether a series of different
drops or drops combined with laser and/or surgery can help lower the eye
pressure to lessen the extent of vision loss. There is no cure, Dr. Miller
says, but adds, “The earlier we can recognize eye pressure changes,
the better the chance that we can stop the damage.”
Dr. Miller is accepting new patients. Contact him at 753-1017.
Glaucoma at a Glance
- Glaucoma damages the eye’s optic nerve. This can lead to vision loss
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
- About 3 million Americans have glaucoma.
- 50% of the people who have glaucoma don’t know they have it due to
the lack of symptoms.
- There is no cure, but early treatment can prevent vision loss.
- Diabetics, people over age 60, and those with family members who have had
glaucoma are at higher risk.
- Routine eye exams with eye dilation can help diagnose glaucoma in its early stages.