This month we’re discussing medical conditions and one that I take notice of is glaucoma. Why? My grandfather on my father’s side and my mother both had/have a form of the disease. For that reason, my eye check-ups are regularly scheduled as I have several factors that increase my risk: poor vision, over 40, of Russian descent, and a family history.
You are at an increased risk of glaucoma if you:
Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent.
Are over age 40.
Have a family history of glaucoma.
Have poor vision.
Take certain steroid medications, such as prednisone.
So with four factors against me, I take precautions. What is glaucoma, exactly?
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.
The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve from high eye pressure continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.
I learned that glaucoma has no early symptoms or pain, so eye exams are vital for detection. What does an exam consist of? To diagnose glaucoma, an eye doctor will test your vision and examine your eyes through dilated pupils. The eye exam typically focuses on the optic nerve which has a particular appearance in glaucoma. In fact, photographs of the optic nerve can also be helpful to follow over time as the optic nerve appearance changes as glaucoma progresses. The doctor will also perform a procedure called tonometry to check for eye pressure and a visual field test, if necessary, to determine if there is loss of side vision. Glaucoma tests are painless and take very little time.
Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if it is diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled.
The Mayo Clinic suggests four ways to lessen the damaging effects of glaucoma:
(1) Get regular eye care. Regular comprehensive eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages before irreversible damage occurs. As a general rule, have comprehensive eye exams every three to five years after age 40 and every year after age 60. You may need more frequent screening if you have glaucoma risk factors. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.
(2) Treat elevated eye pressure. Glaucoma eye drops can significantly reduce the risk that elevated eye pressure will progress to glaucoma. To be effective, these drops must be taken regularly even if you have no symptoms.
(3) Eat a healthy diet. While eating a healthy diet won’t prevent glaucoma, it can improve your physical and mental health. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood pressure.
(4) Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wear eye protection when you use power tools or play high-speed racket sports on enclosed courts. Also wear hats and sunglasses if you spend time outside.
I’ve learned to pay attention to my vision. Shouldn’t you?
This week’s writing prompt: Write a short story scene in which the main character has learned that he or she has glaucoma.