Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Treating Glaucoma starts with prevention

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Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially for older people. But, it can often be prevented with early treatment.

“I went from being glaucoma suspect to actually seeing the charts changing into the area of glaucoma,” said Peggy Larson of Sioux Falls.

Glaucoma runs in Larson’s family.

“Every time I’m in that situation where it’s pitch dark and I have to feel my way around, I think it could be like this sometimes and it’s very scary,” said Larson.

Peggy sees optometrist Gregory Hill every three to six months to keep her Glaucoma from progressing.

“The eye is considered like a water balloon filled with fluid and that fluid has a certain pressure to it. If there gets to be too much pressure of that fluid, it will damage tissue inside the eye, specifically the nerve where it comes in the eye at the back of the eye ball. That will become damaged most quickly. The result of that damage is that you lose your side vision or your peripheral vision,” said Hill.

Unfortunately Glaucoma has no symptoms. Hill says by the time someone realizes they’re losing side vision, they’re already lost a third of their field of view.

“Our brain combines the image from both eyes -- so you could be losing a big portion of the vision in one eye but since your brain combines the two images, it will overlap the missing section so you won’t realize it’s missing until you cover one eye and then you realize oh, I’m not seeing this over here,” said Hill.

Hill says prevention is key. Glaucoma can only be detected through evaluations with an eye doctor – underscoring the importance of getting your eyes checked at least once every two years.

“Getting your eyes checked actually has only a small portion to do with checking your prescriptions or your glasses power. I would say at least three-fourths of what we do in a typical routine exam revolves around eye health, a smaller portion regarding prescriptions,” said Hill.

“A lot of people are afraid to go to the doctor for different things because ‘oh no, what if I have this or that.’ And this is so painless to go to an eye doctor for something that could be so serious,” said Larson.

The sooner Glaucoma is detected, the faster it can be treated to hopefully slow down the progression. It is typically managed with eye drops.

“Compliance is key. As long as you do two things: keep up on the eye drops exactly as scheduled and come in for your recommended follow ups, that’s the best we can hope for,” said Hill.

“Your vision is so important,” said Larson.

Risk factors for Glaucoma include family history, elevated eye pressure and pre-existing thinning of the optic nerve.

For more information, just call 877-AT-AVERA.