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Glaucoma: Vision’s silent thief

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Kara Harbick with BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists

Glaucoma is a condition in which the optic nerve, which runs from the back of the eye to the brain, becomes damaged, causing a person to lose vision. If untreated, it can lead to blindness.

The scariest part is that in its early stages, the most common form of glaucoma has no symptoms. It isn’t painful. It doesn’t cause the eye to change color. Up to half of the people with glaucoma do not even know they have it!

What causes glaucoma? There are many risk factors, including:

  • High eye pressure
  • Being older than 40
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Being of African/African-American or Hispanic/Latino heritage
  • Having a prior eye injury, diabetes, migraines or poor blood circulation

Of these risk factors, the only one that can be controlled is eye pressure.

There are a variety of ways to treat glaucoma, but they all have something in common – lowering eye pressure. In order to lower eye pressure, your doctor might recommend eye drops, laser treatment or surgery in the operating room, or a combination of these treatments.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the world. It is estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and of those, 120,000 have been blinded by it.

The good news is that glaucoma can be controlled. But first it needs to be discovered and diagnosed. That is why it’s so important to have regular eye exams, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors.

If glaucoma is suspected, an ophthalmologist will perform a glaucoma exam. In a typical glaucoma exam, a patient will:

  • Have a scan to determine whether there is damage to the optic nerve
  • Perform a visual field test in which a button is clicked every time the patient sees a blinking light
  • Have a dilated ocular exam so the doctor can see the optic nerves

This information will help determine whether glaucoma damage is present. Based on that, a treatment plan can be recommended.

Don’t let glaucoma take away one of your senses. Regular eye exams can help preserve your vision.


Published: Thursday, January 2, 2020
Author: Dr. Kara H. Harbick