January is Glaucoma Awareness Month so it’s important to understand what you need to be aware of when it comes to glaucoma. Some people learn about glaucoma from a family member who has it and has lost vision. Others find out about it when they have an eye exam. The problem with glaucoma is that it can cause you to lose vision for a long time without you being able to tell. It can sneak up on you without you noticing until it is too late to get back what it has already damaged.
Some people have risk factors that mean they have more chance of getting glaucoma than others. These can include: having family members with glaucoma, having high amounts of nearsightedness or farsightedness, being on certain medications, and even just being older.
How Glaucoma Works
Knowing about your eyes will help you understand glaucoma better. Inside your eyes there is a part that makes fluid to bring nourishment to all the structures of your eyes. That fluid flows from the back of your eye into the front where it drains through a channel back into your bloodstream. This has nothing to do with your tears on the outside of your eye, since all of this fluid is inside. The problem is that in some people, that drainage channel can get clogged up, so the fluid builds up inside your eye and raises the pressure. When the pressure inside your eye gets too high, it can crush the optic nerve fibers that carry your vision from your eye to your brain. The fibers most sensitive to pressure deal with your peripheral vision, so the damage is way off at the outside edges of your vision where you don’t notice it. You can’t feel the pressure until it gets dangerously high, so it doesn’t generally hurt. This can go on for months doing damage without you knowing unless you have it checked.
How Often Should You Be Checked for Glaucoma?
Fortunately, for most people, the pressure only rises gradually, so having your eye pressure measured once or twice a year will catch any problem before it causes damage. If you are young, and don’t have any other risk factors, even a check-up every few years will be safe. The more risk factors you have, the more frequently it should be checked.
How is Glaucoma Treated?
The good news, and why Glaucoma should not be scary, is that if you catch a rise in your eye pressure, it can be treated simply and never cause you to develop glaucoma or lose vision. Simple eye drops, or easy office laser procedures can lower your eye pressure to a safe range, so it won’t cause trouble. But even with effective treatment, your eye pressure needs to be watched regularly to be certain that the treatment continues to be effective.
So, the important messages for Glaucoma Awareness Month are to have your eyes checked and to ask your doctor if you have any risks for glaucoma. Be aware of what your eye pressure is. The normal range is 11-21 mmHg. Look at the package inserts or ask your doctor if any of your regular medications can lead to problems with glaucoma. If you are prescribed eye drops to lower your eye pressure or treat glaucoma, use them responsibly and have regular exams to be certain that they are working effectively.