ThedaCare Doctor explains importance of eye exams

January is National Glau-coma Awareness month in the United States. The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that more than three million Americans currently have glaucoma, with more than half not knowing it. Glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss and irreversible blindness.

“Glaucoma has no symptoms and many people with the disease don’t know they have it until they lose vision, typically side vision first,” said Dr. Kirsten Grove, with ThedaCare Physicians-Berlin. “That’s why it is important for anyone at risk for glaucoma to receive a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year or two by an ophthalmologist or optometrist starting at age 35.”

 

A comprehensive eye exam involves many different areas, including a visual acuity test, color blindness screening, pupil dilatation, and glaucoma testing.

Those at greatest risk to develop glaucoma include: Family members of those diagnosed with glaucoma; people with diabetes; people of African American or Asian descent over the age of 40; anyone over the age of 60, especially Mexican Americans; those who are severely nearsighted.

While glaucoma primarily affects the middle-aged or elderly, it can affect anyone.

“Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes fluid to build up within the eye,” explained Dr. Grove. “That fluid increases pressure in the eye and damages the optic nerve, which transfers images to the brain. Damage to the optic nerve cannot be reversed. The good news is that glaucoma can be slowed to prevent further vision loss, if detected early enough.”

Dr. Grove explained that typical treatment involves daily eye drops, laser treatments, eye surgery or a combination of those treatments.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), people can lose as much as 40 percent of their vision before noticing vision loss. A diagnosis of glaucoma does not mean the patient will go blind. Statistically, about five percent of glaucoma patients suffer complete blindness; another 10 percent suffer sight impairment.

“There are no known ways to prevent glaucoma,” said Dr. Grove. “That’s why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is so important. If you have concerns about your vision, talk with your primary care provider. Don’t wait until you notice vision loss before being tested.”

 

During Glaucoma Aware-ness Month, the NEI and GRF ask everyone to talk about glaucoma, especially with those who might be at greatest risk. If you have glaucoma, make your family members aware so they will be checked regularly.