By Judith Whitehead
Special to The News
Glaucoma is otherwise known as the sneak thief of vision.
For the most part, it is a disease that damages the optic nerve of the eye and can rob someone’s peripheral vision slowly and methodically, without pain.
This is why it is so important to get regular eye exams done by either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist.
There are many types of glaucoma. The most common is open angle glaucoma.There are also closed angle and narrow angle glaucoma, the latter of which come on suddenly with symptoms of nausea, headache, brow and eye pain and vision loss. When these symptoms occur, many people think they are getting the flu. This occurs more often with people that have small eyeballs or are hyperopic or have mature cataracts that have not yet been removed. This is the type of glaucoma that you see listed on medication bottles that state, “Do not take this medication of you have narrow angle glaucoma.”
Glaucoma can start with someone who has a normal eye intraocular pressure that is tested in an office and should measure under 21 mm/hg (mercury). Someone can also get glaucoma secondary to using other medications like steroid drops, as well as through trauma or other causes.
Congenital glaucoma which rare and detected in infants or small children.
The optic nerve has a measurable size that can be detected during an eye examination. The ratio between the “cup” to the “disc” inside the eye determines if you are at risk for developing glaucoma.
A person can have risk factors for developing glaucoma and never develop the disease. This is why it is so important to get regular checkups. If the size of the optic nerve is greater than .4 mm, then you have a risk factor. Other risk factors are hereditary causes, injury to the eye, and an elevated intraocular pressure of greater than 21. Glaucoma is more prevalent among African Americans and older people.
If glaucoma goes undetected, the peripheral vision or side vision is slowly damaged and permanently lost. Treatment works best when the disease is diagnosed early. Peripheral vision testing, a visual field test, can be done in the office, measuring the thickness of the cornea and angle of flow in the eye, and documenting the shape of the optic nerve. Testing can be done painlessly and easily, with little time commitment.
All these factors put together will determine if treatment is necessary.
Treatment options include drop therapy, a lifelong commitment and not a short-term fix, to lower the eye pressure to a level the eye can tolerate. Drops can come with side effects and need to be monitored closely. Some drops are known as beta blockers and can affect blood pressure and breathing. Surgical procedures also can be done to lower eye pressure, and laser procedures can open the narrow angle of the eye.
Glaucoma is a serious eye condition. Its damage needs to be maintained with compliance of the patient. Many insurance plans can vary on the cost of eye drops and there are many savings cards available to help cover out-of-pocket costs, either through your provider or obtained online.
Many drug companies have free samples if you are financially compromised.
Today, there is no reason a person should let themselves go blind from this treatable disease.
Judith Whitehead, of East Amherst, is a certified ophthalmic technician.