By Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO
Each year as the New Year approaches, people around the world resolve to make changes that will result in longer, happier and healthier lives. Often people are determined to lose weight while others are committed to kicking unhealthy habits such as smoking. This year I would like you to add, “Get a Glaucoma Eye Exam!” to the list of healthy resolutions, and Glaucoma Awareness Month in January is the perfect time to do it.
Glaucoma normally progresses so slowly that there are usually no warning signs before permanent damage has occurred to the eye. Therefore, it is vital to educate the American public about the importance of a yearly eye exam to increase early detection and treatment of glaucoma to help prevent vision loss.
What is glaucoma?
In a healthy eye, clear fluid is constantly being made behind the iris and leaving the eye through a microscopic drainage canal in the front of the eye. If this drainage channel becomes blocked, the pressure inside the eye goes up and often causes glaucoma damage to the optic nerve. This is the nerve that connects the eye to the brain so damage to it causes loss of vision.
Who is at risk?
While the causes of glaucoma are not completely known, we do know that risk factors for its development include a family history of glaucoma, race and older age. Glaucoma may affect people of any age from newborns to the elderly but is more common in adults as they approach their senior years. African-Americans, Hispanics and people with diabetes are also at increased risk of developing the disease.
How is it treated?
Most forms of glaucoma can be treated with pressure lowering eye drops. Some patients may also benefit from laser treatment (laser trabeculoplasty). A small portion of patients with severe glaucoma may require incisional surgery to permanently help shunt the aqueous fluid out of the eye.
So please call your local ophthalmologist today to schedule your glaucoma screening for the New Year.
Dr. Mark Siegel, MD, FAAO is medical director at Sea Island Ophthalmology, www.seaislandophthalmology.com.