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Prevent blindness by catching glaucoma early

Glaucoma is a serious disease that causes permanent vision loss. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, it’s the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Thankfully, damage from glaucoma can be lessened with proper treatment.

The trick is to find it early.

Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged over time. The optic nerve transfers visual information from the eye to the brain.

Conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure put patients at higher risk for the disease, but at present, the cause is still being researched. Scientists are also looking at the impact of family history and genetics.

Because glaucoma affects peripheral vision first, ophthalmologists call it a silent stealer of vision. Loss of the center of vision generally occurs later. Patients tend to be unaware that they have glaucoma until it is diagnosed or their condition is advanced.

Early diagnosis is the key to preventing vision loss. That’s why regular eye exams are so important. When treatments start early people usually do really well and don’t lose much of their vision.

A dilated eye exam—the kind offered at Vancouver Clinic®—allows ophthalmologists to check the health of the optic nerve. Doctors also check eye pressure during the exam. Most people with glaucoma have high eye pressure. However, it’s possible to have high eye pressure without developing glaucoma. It’s also possible to have normal eye pressure and to still get glaucoma.

I like to reassure patients who have glaucoma that it’s common, and that most people today preserve their sight.

Daily prescription eye drops can lower eye pressure. The key is to use them consistently. Eye pressure needs to be controlled continuously to prevent damage. Patients on drops oftentimes take them for life. It’s also important to know that eye drops are designed to prevent future vision loss; they can’t restore vision.

Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery is also an option for reducing the risk of vision loss. This quick surgery helps fluid flow out of the eye faster, thus lowering pressure. However, the surgery isn’t performed alone. It’s typically done at the same time as cataract surgery. In advanced cases, more significant surgery may be necessary.

While there are no formal guidelines for when to get screened for glaucoma, I usually suggest that patients have a comprehensive eye exam at age 50. Individuals with a family history of glaucoma may need to be screened at a younger age.

If you haven’t had a recent eye exam, or are concerned about your risk of glaucoma, make an appointment to have your vision and eye pressure checked.

Dr. Matthew Benage is a Vancouver Clinic ophthalmologist who focuses on preserving and restoring vision. Dr. Benage has a special interest in cataract surgery, anterior segment surgery, and minimally invasive glaucoma surgery.