Early Detection Important in Preventing Vision Loss from Glaucoma
More than four million Americans have glaucoma — an eye disease that damages the optic nerve and destroys sight. About half of those people aren't even aware they have the disease — there are no symptoms.
Schmalfeldt: More than four million Americans have glaucoma — an eye disease that damages the optic nerve and destroys sight. About half of those people aren't even aware they have the disease — there are no symptoms, according to Dr. Anne Coleman, Chair of the Glaucoma Subcommittee for the National Eye Institute's National Eye Care Health Education Program.
Coleman: If you rely on a high eye pressure you're not picking up everybody because only one out of two has high eye pressures, and they may or may not have glaucoma. If you're relying on the visual acuity where you're reading along the chart, you're not going to pick it up because that's your central vision and glaucoma hits your side vision, your peripheral vision. And so they really need to go in and have someone look at their optic nerve. What they do, is they take special lenses and they can see the nerve when they look into the eye. And that's most often recommended to be done with a dilated eye exam where we put drops in to make the pupils big so we can see in better.
Schmalfeldt: The NEI encourages people at a higher risk for glaucoma to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every one to two years. Those people would include African Americans over age 40, everyone over age 60, and anyone with a family history of the disease. Dr. Coleman said early detection and treatment is key in preventing permanent vision damage from glaucoma.
Coleman: We know that if we get the pressure down — if the pressure's normal we get it even lower — that we can slow down or prevent any vision loss. We can use medications to do that, which are eyedrops, sometimes pills. We can also do laser surgery. And we also have regular incisional surgery where we can make like a little trap door in the eye to let the fluid out. We can even put like a drainage device, which you could describe as like a hose that drains some of the fluid out of the eye and lowers the pressure.
Schmalfeldt: May is Healthy Vision Month, during which the NEI encourages all Americans to make vision a health priority. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Anne Coleman
Topic: Eye Health