Senior Connections

Glaucoma Awareness Focus of a Global Campaign

For many of us, our first encounter with an eye care professional came when we – or someone near to us – noticed we were having trouble reading. Those blurry letters were a symptom of a problem and the doctor had a solution – glasses, contact lenses, maybe even laser surgery.

But as we age, vision problems become more complex.

For those of us who have passed 50, glaucoma is among the greatest threats to our vision. And glaucoma has no symptoms until the disease has already done extensive damage. The only way to detect glaucoma is to visit your eye care professional regularly for a check-up that includes a simple, painless test for glaucoma.

Glaucoma has been labeled the Silent Thief of Sight. And the medical community is so concerned by low awareness of glaucoma that it is mounting the 6th World Glaucoma Week observance March 9-15. The World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and World Glaucoma Patient Association (WGPA) are launching a ‘BIG – Beat Invisible Glaucoma’ campaign.

Glaucoma is a broad term that covers several conditions involving the drainage of fluid within the eye and the build-up of internal pressure that can damage the optic nerve. That’s the nerve that delivers the visual image to the brain.

In its early stages, glaucoma has no symptoms – no pain, no headaches, no blurring of vision. In some cases, the first hint is a gradual reduction of peripheral vision – the ability to see objects at the extreme side of our field of vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can continue to shrink the field of vision until vision is limited to what’s straight ahead – tunnel vision. Blindness can be the ultimate result.

Depending on what stage the condition is detected, medical intervention can range from prescription eye drops to laser surgery to conventional surgery. The condition is not reversible but treatment can slow or even stop its progression and limit damage.

Why is glaucoma Awareness so important? Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, stealing sight from about 9 million people around the world. Yet it is estimated that 90 percent of those people could have been helped with early intervention. Because of the silent progression of the disease – at least in its early stages – up to 50 percent of affected persons in Las Vegas are not aware of having glaucoma and are receiving no treatment. If it has been some time since you have had an eye exam, this could be you!

The causes of glaucoma are unclear but research has identified some population groups at increased risk:

  • African Americans are six to eight times more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians;
  • Those over age 60 are six times more likely to develop glaucoma;
  • Steroid users, including those using an asthma inhaler, have elevated risk;
  • Those with a family history of glaucoma have a higher risk.

The key to preventing vision loss from glaucoma is early detection. Everyone over age 65 and younger people with increased risk factors should have a thorough exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist each year.

Your eye doctor will check for glaucoma in the course of a comprehensive dilated eye exam that includes:

  • A visual acuity test that measures how well you see at various distances;
  • Dilated eye exam, in which drops are placed in your eyes to dilate the pupils so your eye care professional can examine your retina and optic nerve for signs of nerve damage and other eye problems;
  • Tonometry, a test which measures the pressure inside the eye, an important factor in a diagnosis of glaucoma;
  • And pachymetry, the measurement of the thickness of your cornea with an ultrasonic instrument.

Please support the goal of the world glaucoma association, glaucoma awareness, by sharing this message with your family, friends, and neighbors. If it has been some time since your last eye exam, consider calling your eye doctor for an appointment, there’s no reason to delay. Don’t let glaucoma steal your precious vision. 

Dr. Peter DeBry, M.D., has been treating glaucoma in Las Vegas for more than 10 years. He is one of the few fellowship-trained glaucoma specialists in the area. New patient consultations and cataract seminars are available at his new practice, NV Eye Surgery, with offices in Henderson and Summerlin. Please call for more information 702-825-2085.