According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. It usually begins with no symptoms, so half the people who have glaucoma don’t even know they have it until their vision is greatly impacted. But when glaucoma is caught early enough, you can preserve your vision – making it important to become informed and learn more about the disease.
When glaucoma is caught early, you can preserve your vision and prevent vision loss.
Don’t let glaucoma sneak up on you before you know it. Learn more about glaucoma, your risk level and what steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that causes damage to the optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. The most common form of glaucoma is called open-angle glaucoma. It begins when fluid builds up in the front of the eye, which increases the pressure in the eye, eventually damaging the optic nerve.
Glaucoma usually starts without any symptoms or warning signs. At first, objects straight ahead are seen clearly, but objects to the side are increasingly lost. Eventually, as time goes on, the center of vision is also affected.
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone can get glaucoma, but there are several factors that increase your risk. Here’s what you should know:
- Family history — If someone in your family has glaucoma, this is one of the biggest risk factors.
- Age — If you’re over the age of 60, you’re at greater risk for glaucoma. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), this is the leading cause of blindness in Veterans 60 years old and older.
- Race — Glaucoma is six to eight times more likely to occur in African Americans than non-Hispanic white people. In Hispanic populations, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness.
- Diabetes — If you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to get glaucoma.
- Other factors — Certain hypertension medications and obstructive sleep apnea can affect your risk for glaucoma.
What Steps Can I Take to Keep My Eyes Healthy?
When glaucoma is caught early, you can preserve your vision and prevent vision loss. Here are some steps you can take right away:
- Understand your risk level. Look at the factors above to determine your risk level and talk to your health care provider. If you don’t know much about your family history, talk to your family members to see if anyone has been diagnosed with glaucoma.
- Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. If you catch glaucoma early, you can begin treatment and stop it from progressing. If you’re in a high-risk group, contact your health care provider to schedule your exam right away. Even if you aren’t high risk, if you’re over 40, it’s a good idea to get an annual eye exam anyway. Early intervention is the best strategy to preserve your vision and prevent further damage.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Healthy behaviors, such as not smoking, staying at a healthy weight and being physically active, can help you control your blood pressure and reduce your chances of developing diabetes and other chronic conditions which can impact your eye health.
- Check out the article Keeping Your Eyes Healthy and Your Vision Strong. This article offers details on how to protect your eyes and keep them healthy.
What Treatments Are Available?
An eye exam is your first step. Once you’ve had an eye exam, if your health care provider finds evidence of glaucoma, you can begin treatment.
- If you catch it early enough, glaucoma can often be treated with prescription eye drops that lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to the optic nerve.
- More advanced glaucoma can be treated through minimally invasive procedures like a laser treatment to help the fluid drain out of your eye.
- If medicine and laser treatments don’t work, your health care provider may suggest surgery. The goal of the surgery is to lower the eye pressure and improve the eye’s ability to drain fluid.
There’s no cure for glaucoma, so it’s important to have regular checkups and start treatment right away. Treatment won’t undo any damage to your vision, but it can stop it from getting worse.
Learn more about what VA is doing to help Veterans deal with vision loss and understand common eye diseases. VA’s Center of Excellence for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss is exploring new methods of detection, developing new treatment strategies and much more.
In addition, VA offers Veterans access to benefits and resources that promote healthy eyes and vision. If you qualify for VA health care benefits, you may be able to get some or all of your vision care through VA. Routine eye exams and preventative vision testing are covered under VA health care benefits. Your VA health care provider can help you schedule an eye exam. Learn more on VA’s vision care page.
Check out this helpful glaucoma video on YouTube made by a VA doctor to answer some of the common questions patients have about the disease.
The National Eye Institute offers a lot of great resources related to glaucoma, such as what to expect during an eye exam, a guide to help you talk to your doctor, details about the different treatments and much more.
The CDC has a wealth of information on eye health and vision basics, such as common eye disorders, frequently asked questions and more.
Routine eye exams are a necessary part of your overall health and wellness. Schedule your appointment today!