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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, which makes this the perfect time to make an appointment with your eye doctor for your regular eye exam. It is estimated that up to 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but many aren’t aware they have this common eye disease. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, there are proven treatment options available if it is caught early enough.

WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that progressively robs a person of vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. The two most common forms of glaucoma are open-angle and closed-angle (sometimes called angle-closure). The warning signs for open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma are significantly different from one another.

OPEN-ANGLE GLAUCOMA

Unfortunately, open-angle glaucoma often has no symptoms and thus has earned the nickname “thief of sight” as the only sign for many is significant vision loss. In open-angle glaucoma, the angle between the iris and cornea of the eye is wide and open, but the drainage ducts become clogged over time, causing pressure within the eye to increase, damaging the optic nerve. Because there are no obvious signs, you may not know you have a problem until it is too late. Your eye doctor, however, can perform tests for glaucoma as part of your routine eye exam.

CLOSED-ANGLE GLAUCOMA

While open-angle glaucoma may develop over a long period of time with no obvious symptoms, closed-angle glaucoma may develop rapidly with a number of symptoms that may not immediately be recognized as relating to glaucoma. In closed-angle glaucoma, the drainage ducts from the eye become blocked rapidly, causing sudden increases in pressure within the eye, and thus the possibility for sudden damage to the optic nerve. If not treated right away, blindness may occur.

Common symptoms of closed-angle glaucoma include:

  • Hazy or blurred vision
  • Seeing halos such as rainbow-colored circles around bright sources of light
  • Severe eye or head pain
  • Nausea or vomiting with eye pain
  • Sudden loss of vision

If you experience these symptoms, consult your eye doctor immediately as they could indicate an eye emergency.

WHO IS MOST AT RISK FOR DEVELOPING GLAUCOMA?

Although anyone can develop glaucoma, those most at risk are:

  • Over the age of 40, and particularly over the age of 60
  • Have family history of glaucoma
  • Have poor vision already, but especially those with extreme nearsightedness or a very thin cornea
  • Are diabetic
  • Have high blood pressure or extremely low blood pressure
  • Take certain steroid medications (especially prednisone)
  • Have had an eye injury

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR GLAUCOMA

Treatment options for glaucoma depend on a number of factors, including the type of glaucoma and your overall health history. Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be treated and controlled if caught early enough. The best treatment for glaucoma is preventive — regular annual exams with your eye care professional, including glaucoma screening.

Once risk has been established or warning signs have been identified, your eye doctor will determine what treatment options are best for you given your overall health, symptoms, progression of your glaucoma, and lifestyle. Common treatment options involve eye drops, oral medications, laser procedures, or surgery. Because glaucoma changes over time, expect your treatment plan to change over time as well, and notify your doctor immediately if you notice any changes to your vision, have symptoms listed above, or have any other eye care concerns.

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