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The Eye Disease You Might Have and Not Know It

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January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. It is estimated 58 million people have glaucoma worldwide, making it the second leading cause of irreversible blindness. An estimated 3 million Americans have this disease and almost half are unaware they have it. Glaucoma is often referred to as the silent thief of sight, and that is because this disease is usually painless and people do not notice anything is wrong until some portion of their vision has been lost.

Glaucoma is defined as a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve consists of over 1 million nerve fibers and is the pathway for transmitting messages between the eye and the brain. There are different types of glaucoma including open-angle, normal-tension, and angle-closure glaucoma. They all cause damage to your optic nerve, resulting in vision loss. Once damage occurs, it cannot be reversed. This is one of the reasons why having regular eye exams is so important.

During your eye exam, the doctor will look for signs of glaucoma in a few different ways. One tool is to measure your intraocular pressure, the pressure inside of your eye. This is done at every eye exam you have and it is painless. Elevated eye pressures are common with glaucoma patients and can help the doctor determine if glaucoma may be present. Your eye doctor will also dilate your eyes and look for signs of abnormalities. If it is suspected you may have glaucoma, further testing will take place. For instance, a visual field test may be performed. This test requires you to cover one eye, focus on a fixed spot and click a button when you see flashing lights. This measures your peripheral vision, which is where sight loss occurs first with glaucoma.

Although there is no cure for glaucoma, there are treatments available. Eye drops may be prescribed by your doctor and laser treatments or surgery are also options. These treatments are designed to slow down or may even stop glaucoma from progressing.

Who is most a risk of developing glaucoma? If you have a family history, or have been diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension, you are at increased risk of developing glaucoma. People over 60 years old are at an increased risk, especially for the Hispanic and Latino communities and African Americans over the age of 40. Glaucoma can also occur after a severe eye injury, as is the case with me.

Glaucoma is a disease that insinuates itself into your life; there is no pain involved, so it may go unnoticed until portions of your vision are already gone. And once it is lost, it cannot be restored. Glaucoma will not take all of your sight at one time. Vision loss occurs very slowly over time and usually begins with the loss of peripheral vision. This is what makes it difficult to catch early on. I have glaucoma caused by a severe eye injury and to be honest, she’s a sneaky little bitch. Twice she has forever erased part of the vision in my right eye. Below is an example of the vision loss glaucoma has taken from me thus far. I also have severe central vision loss, but I have left that out in order to better illustrate the vision loss due to glaucoma.

The best way to stay on top of this disease is to have your eyes checked regularly. There are treatments available to slow its progress. Research is ongoing to find a cure for glaucoma, but we are not there yet. Please consider making a charitable donation to help find a cure for this disease.

Originally published: January 24, 2022
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