FEATURE — Glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of sight,” a sinister moniker that sounds more like a storybook villain than an eye disease. And yet, glaucoma lives up to its nickname, often developing without pain or other symptoms.
In many glaucoma cases, a person can lose up to 40 percent of their vision before even noticing, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Therefore early detection is key to managing and treating glaucoma – it affects 3 million people in the United States alone.
Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve resulting in vision loss and sometimes blindness. It is primarily caused by a build up of pressure from the fluid in the eye not draining properly and putting pressure or stress on the optic nerve.
“When we talk about vision loss from glaucoma we are usually talking about peripheral vision loss and then moving center,” SouthWest Vision optometrist Ryan Robison said. “A classic tunnel vision reference may be used to describe the effect of glaucoma.”
If left completely untreated, a person can can go completely blind from glaucoma, Robison said, although the final stage is typically tunnel vision.
Glaucoma is hereditary in large part but there are other factors besides genetics. Robison identified the following five factors for those at high or highest risk of developing glaucoma:
- Age: People older than 65.
- Genetics: People with a family history of glaucoma.
- Ethnic background: People who are African-American, Latino or Asian.
- Smokers: People who smoke or who have ever smoked.
- Diabetics: People with diabetes.
Other people at risk of developing glaucoma are those with low blood pressure, Robison said, those who have ever experienced head trauma and those who have ever taken a steroid.
Diagnosing glaucoma is much like piecing together a puzzle, Robison said. There is not one simple test and number that indicates a person has the disease.
“It’s not just eye pressure,” the doctor said. “It would be nice and convenient if it were like diabetes and checking blood sugars or checking your blood pressure and having a specific number that is out of place. That can happen with glaucoma but that is not always the case.”
A person can have normal eye pressure readings and still have all of the findings of glaucoma.
Other pieces of the glaucoma puzzle include looking on the inside of the eye, watching the optic nerve to see if it is going through a stress related change, watching a patients peripheral vision to see if they are starting to lose parts of the peripheral vision and measuring the thickness of the retina to watch for a measurable change over time.
“If we document that something is changing then we will likely start a treatment,” Robison said. “Early detection is what we are after so we can start an early treatment.”
Patients who really struggle with glaucoma are those who caught the disease in its later stages after it has already gained a lot of momentum. To try and control glaucoma in the later stages is really difficult, Robison said.
Glaucoma is neither a curable nor a reversible disease but it can be effectively managed and vision can be preserved if caught early.
Robison encourages annual eye exams using the following guidelines based on age:
- Infants-toddlers: Every 1-2 years.
- Teens: Every year.
- Early 20s-30s: Every 1-2 years.
- Early 40s and up: Every year.
Patients experiencing any vision loss or with any of the major risk factors for glaucoma should have regular yearly eye exams, if not twice-yearly eye exams, Robison said.
About SouthWest Vision
SouthWest Vision is a premier eye and vision care provider that has been bringing quality eye care to Southern Utah for 20 years. SouthWest Vision has won Best of State in both eye care and optical care several times. Its doctors are the most-awarded doctors in Southern Utah, Robison said.
The clinic sees both scheduled patients and eye emergencies. The SouthWest Vision team is dedicated to uncompromising medical eye care applying the latest science and technology to every eye assessment. At Southwest Vision the doctors and staff believe that early detection of eye disease is key to preventing devastating loss of vision later in life.
The dedicated team of SouthWest Vision doctors and staff want their patients to experience world-class optical care and have confidence in their vision. To find more information or to schedule an appointment, visit SouthWest Vision’s website.
• S P O N S O R E D C O N T E N T •
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.