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Regular Eye Exams Key to Preventing Vision Loss from Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve. This nerve carries images from the retina—specialized light-sensing tissue—to the brain, which allows you to see. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in loss of vision and even blindness. Early detection and treatment can help protect your eyes against vision loss from glaucoma.

Some risk factors for glaucoma include increasing age, African ancestry, a family history of the disease, past injuries to the eye and steroid use.

Most cases of glaucoma do not produce easily noticeable symptoms at first. Gradually, a person loses peripheral (side) vision. If left untreated, the disease can cause a person to feel as though he or she is looking through a tunnel. Then central (straight-ahead) vision is lost. Once this happens, vision lost from the disease cannot be restored.

The most common form of the disease is open-angle glaucoma. Although all the structures of the eye appear normal, fluid that is produced inside the eye does not drain out of the eye adequately. This causes an increase in eye pressure.

Glaucoma is detected through an eye exam in which an eye care professional will perform some or all of the following: measure your eye pressure, inspect the drainage angle of your eye, evaluate your optic nerve, dilate your pupils, and test the visual field of both eyes.
Treatment for glaucoma may be able to prevent or slow further damage from occurring. The type of treatment you receive will be based on the type and severity of your glaucoma. Treatment options include:
• Medications to lower eye pressure, usually in the form of eye drops
• Laser surgery to help fluid drain out of the eye
• Conventional eye surgery to increase the drainage of fluid out of the eye.

Glaucoma is more common in people as they age. Since there are no symptoms in the early stages, having a thorough eye examination is crucial in detecting glaucoma, so everyone should be checked, especially as they get older. You can protect your eye health through regular eye exams to check your optic nerve and eye pressure. If you have already been diagnosed with glaucoma, you can slow the progression of the disease and preserve the vision you still have by following your eye care professional’s instructions for taking your medicine and having regular checkups. If you have already lost some vision, low vision devices may help. Examples include magnifiers, colored lenses, and computer text enlargers.

New York Ophthalmologist Dr. Soo Mee Pak of Ophthalmology Partners in New City, New York is on the staff at Nyack Hospital.