FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Dec. 26, 2012) -- Is your eye about to explode? If so, you may have glaucoma. Sure, you’ve heard of this word and you know it has something to do with the eye and you think maybe your grandpa or grandma has it. That or cataracts; you’re not sure.
Glaucoma is damage done to the optic nerve by high eye pressure. The optic nerve connects your eye to your brain and eye doctors can see one end of it inside the back of your eye. If it looks like damage has been done to it, glaucoma testing is performed. Several tests, a side vision test, a 3-D image of the optic nerve, photos and more, are done along with a regular eye exam.
Glaucoma is one of many conditions that can be detected at a regular eye exam performed by an eye doctor. The infamous “air puff” test is performed to obtain the pressure inside of your eyes. If the pressure is above a certain number, it’s a red flag for glaucoma and testing may be done.
That pressure, called intraocular pressure will not likely be felt unless it is super high, which is very rare. If you do have what feels like pressure on or in your eyes, it is more likely sinus problems – high pressure in the empty spaces around your eye that literally put pressure on the outside of the eyeball. Regardless, get an eye exam and your eye doctor will be able to tell you what’s going on.
There are many types of glaucoma. The more common one is associated with the elderly. But that does not mean that young people are immune to this condition. It tends to run in families, but the cause has not yet been identified.
So if you have grandparents, parents, or especially siblings with glaucoma, you are automatically at a higher risk for it.
So you’re afraid you have glaucoma now? How is it treated?
Assuming the more common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is what we’re talking about, topical eye drops are the first choice. A person may be started on one drop a day, or they may end up taking multiple drops a day, all with the purpose of lowering the eye pressure. There are also laser and surgical procedures that can be done if the drops don’t work.
If the pressure remains high for a period of time, the damage done to the optic nerve will cause the peripheral (side) vision to disappear.
A person with advanced POAG will have a small island of central vision, much like looking through a paper towel tube. That vision is not recoverable until science figures out how to grow new nerves.
Bottom line: If you can’t remember the last time you had an eye exam, make an appointment. Especially if you have a Family member with glaucoma. Most forms of glaucoma are painless and have no symptoms, so don’t form a false sense of security..
To make an appointment, just call Specialty Referrals at 907-6377 (priority goes to active duty and their Families). And don’t worry — we won’t stick very many needles in your eyes.
Capt. John O’Brien, WAMC PAO