It is not uncommon for many of us to take our sense of vision for granted.
You might ask yourself when you last had a preventive eye exam. Yet diseases of the eye often are not symptomatic in early stages.
For this reason, routine eye care may facilitate the discovery of conditions for which early diagnosis and intervention can help preserve the quality of your vision for years to come.
One of these conditions is known as glaucoma.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Glaucoma actually is a group of diseases that can damage the optic nerve, which is responsible for the sense of sight.
The optic nerve is located in the back of the eyeball and transmits images captured by the eye to the brain, where they are translated.
Glaucoma occurs when the fluid pressure gradually increases in the eyeball itself.
The rising pressure can damage the optic nerve, ultimately leading to significant loss of vision and even blindness.
Glaucoma is defined by the damage to the optic nerve itself. Some people may have increased pressure in the eye without suffering optic nerve damage.
Yet these people are at risk.
The risk of glaucoma rises after age 60, especially among those of Mexican descent. Blacks face risk earlier, after age 40.
People with a family history of glaucoma also are at increased risk.
Symptoms of glaucoma can include blurred vision, blind spots, eye pain or the presence of rainbow-colored halos in the field of vision. People with these symptoms should seek immediate care from a professional.
Left untreated, glaucoma sufferers may lose their peripheral vision, resulting in tunnel vision that may gradually progress to blindness.
The most common type of glaucoma, known as primary open angle glaucoma, often is asymptomatic in its early stages with no visual effects. For this reason, routine vision screening is essential, particularly among those with risk factors.
Eye care professionals recommend routine examinations every one to two years beginning at age 40. The comprehensive exam includes vision testing, measurements of the eye pressure and direct visualization of the optic nerve through a dilated pupil.
Fortunately for glaucoma sufferers, there are effective treatments that control the disease and prevent the development of visual loss.
Treatments include medications such as eye drops or pills, which can lower the pressure in the eye. For some patients, laser eye surgery may be recommended.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a
board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Southern Ute Health Center in Ignacio.