Glaucoma can do a great deal of damage to your visual system if it goes undetected and untreated. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about glaucoma symptoms, detection and treatment that cause people to wait to see an eye doctor until it’s too late to prevent vision loss. In this article, we debunk 6 common glaucoma myths.
Myth 1: Glaucoma testing is painful
The Truth: Glaucoma testing is basically painless.
The most commonly used first test for glaucoma is an air puff test. Your optometrist will ask you to place your chin on a chin rest and while looking at a small light, a quick, soft puff of air will be blown at your eye to test the pressure inside your eye. The test takes mere seconds and reveals a great deal of valuable information to your eye doctor about your risk of glaucoma.
Your optometrist may also use an OCT device to create a full-color 3D scan of the inside of your eye, and perform visual field testing to see if the eye pressure has caused any changes to your field of vision. Both these tests can detect damage to ocular structures caused by glaucoma. Both tests are completely non-invasive, as neither touch the eye.
If necessary, your eye doctor may use anesthetic eye drops as part of a Goldmann applanation tonometry test. While these drops may sting slightly for a few seconds, the rest of the test is completely painless. After the anesthetic is applied, your eye doctor will use a small probe and a blue light to quickly and gently touch the cornea. This is an additional method to accurately determine the exact measurement of your inner-eye pressure.
Myth 2: Glaucoma cannot be prevented
The Truth: There are many steps a person can take to minimize their risk of developing glaucoma. They include:
- Living a healthy lifestyle.
Research published in March 2016 in JAMA Ophthalmology has shown that a healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables (especially the green leafy kinds) significantly reduces a person’s chances of developing glaucoma. Regular exercise helps as well, with experts suggesting that a regular routine of moderate to vigorous exercise may reduce risk by as much as 73%. Ask your physician about an appropriate exercise regimen for your age and body type. If you smoke, quitting could significantly lower your risk of glaucoma.
- Having regular comprehensive eye exams. This one is especially important if you have a history of glaucoma in your family since glaucoma can be hereditary. Even if you don’t have a family history, regularly scheduled eye exams are important. Early detection of risk factors associated with glaucoma can put your optometrist on the lookout for subtle warning signs.
- Protecting your eyes from injury. Severe eye injuries can significantly raise your risk of glaucoma. Eye doctors recommend wearing protective eyewear any time you take part in activities where foreign objects may get in your eyes. This includes woodworking, soldering or working with any kind of paints or chemicals. Many sports, including baseball and racquetball, have a high incidence of eye injury.
Myth 3: There’s only one type of glaucoma
The Truth: There are several types of glaucoma. Each has its own causes and treatments.
The two most common types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma.
With angle-closure glaucoma, the structure in your eye responsible for the healthy outflow of fluid from the eye, known as the trabecular meshwork, becomes blocked. This prevents the outflow of fluid from the eye, elevating the intraocular pressure, damaging the ocular nerve and leading to vision loss.
This increase in eye pressure and nerve damage can occur suddenly or gradually over time. If a sudden spike in pressure occurs, the symptoms may include severe headache, nausea, vomiting, eye pain and seeing halos around lights.
Open-angle glaucoma occurs when the trabecular meshwork remains open, but there is still resistance to the outflow of fluid from the eye. This resistance creates a slow build-up pressure inside the eye, and just as in angle-closure glaucoma, damages the optic nerve and leads to vision loss. Open-angle glaucoma develops slowly and shows no obvious symptoms until irreversible damage to your eyes and vision has occurred.
Myth 4: Once you have glaucoma, nothing can be done to help
The Truth: While it is true that there is no cure for glaucoma, optometrists do have a number of options to help lower intraocular pressure, reduce its impact and save your sight
Treatment usually starts with medicated eye drops and oral medications that either increase the outflow of fluid from the eye or decrease the amount of fluid your eye produces.
If these treatments don’t work, eye doctors may also recommend the surgical implantation of drainage tubes, laser therapy or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery.
Myth 5: Only older people get glaucoma
The Truth: It is true that people over 60 are at the highest risk for glaucoma. However, glaucoma can affect people at any age.
Even infants can develop glaucoma if they’re born with certain conditions or birth defects that affect the eyes.
Individuals who are more susceptible include:
- People who have sustained a serious eye injury in the past
- People with a family history of glaucoma
- Diabetics and those suffering from conditions such as cardiovascular disease and sickle-cell anemia
- Those taking steroid medications long-term
- African Americans and Hispanics
- Asians (have a higher risk of closed-angle glaucoma)
Myth 6: You can’t have glaucoma if you don’t have symptoms
The Truth: Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma, accounting for over 90% of all glaucoma cases. Unfortunately, this type of glaucoma shows no noticeable signs or symptoms until vision loss has occurred.
Since glaucoma tends to impact the peripheral (side) vision first, many people might not notice that their vision is gradually shrinking. This is why regular comprehensive eye exams are so important to ensure that glaucoma is caught early, and a treatment plan can be devised well before serious damage has occurred.
Glaucoma can be a devastating eye condition if not caught and treated as early as possible. To find out more about prevention and treatment of glaucoma and similar eye conditions, contact us today.
Q: Can smoking harm my eye health?
- A: Yes. In multiple studies, researchers have found that the more cigarettes a person smokes each day, the higher their risks of developing glaucoma. Beyond glaucoma, smokers are also at a significantly higher risk of developing other eye diseases, including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome.
Q: When should I consider glaucoma surgery?
- A: Glaucoma surgery should be considered if your eye doctor has tried all other treatments, including prescription eye drops, oral medications and laser therapy, without success. Many types of glaucoma surgery exist. Ask your eye doctor to assess your condition and help decide which surgery is the best option to reduce your risk of vision loss, including blindness.Surgery cannot restore vision already lost because of glaucoma, but it can help protect the vision you still have and prevent your glaucoma from worsening.
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