January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States and is estimated to affect 3 million Americans. At least half of those do not know they have it because glaucoma usually has no symptoms until the disease has progressed to a late stage.
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the internal pressure in the eyes increases enough to damage the nerve fibers in the optic nerve and cause vision loss. While damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed, early detection can result in treatment to minimize the effects of the disease.
Dr. Ashley Veness, an optometrist at U.S. Army Health Clinic Vilseck, who recently arrived from Fort Riley, Kansas July 2020, explains the benefits of eye care and the importance of vision readiness.
Annually, service members must complete a Periodic Health Assessment, or PHA, in order to meet medical readiness requirements. Vision is part of the mandatory screenings performed. If the service member’s vision has changed significantly, or there is a question regarding the individual’s eye health, a comprehensive eye examination with the optometrist should be scheduled.
According to Veness, during a comprehensive eye exam an optometrist will measure the pressure in the eyes, examine the inside of the eyes, to include the optic nerves, and may order extra scans on the eyes to check for any signs of glaucoma.
Although the disease is most common in middle-aged and older people, glaucoma can affect people of any age. The good news is regular eye exams can help prevent unnecessary vision loss. If it’s been over a year since the last eye exam, it is important to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor.
Glaucoma awareness is important because there are hardly no symptoms until significant permanent vision loss occurs. Veness finds it rewarding to diagnose glaucoma in the early stages, then work closely with each patient on a treatment plan to help prevent vision loss before any symptoms are noticed by the patient.
Regular eye exams are the first line of defense for early detection of glaucoma, according to the American Optometric Association, or AOA. Certain risk factors that increase likelihood of developing glaucoma include:
· Being over 45 years of age
· Being of African, Asian or Hispanic decent
· Have diabetes, hypertension or heart disease
· Nearsighted vision
· A family history of glaucoma
There are several types of glaucoma but the most common type develops gradually and painlessly over time, without early symptoms. In advanced stages, symptoms may occur, including:
· Loss of side vision
· Difficulty focusing on close work
· Frequent changes in prescription eye glasses
· Difficulty adjusting the eyes to the dark
Because vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible, it’s important to get regular and complete eye exams. AOA recommends annual eye examinations (or more frequent exams if you are high risk for glaucoma) to check for glaucoma and other eye conditions.
Currently there is no cure for glaucoma but if it is diagnosed early, the progression of vision loss slows down dramatically. Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops, and in some cases, laser surgery.
Many resources are available to help answer questions about glaucoma. Ask your eye doctor or visit The Glaucoma Foundation at www.glaucoma-foundation.org.
Dr. Ashley Veness attended Michigan College of Optometry where she earned her Doctorate in Optometry and participated in several local and international mission trips. Veness is a staff optometrist at the U.S. Army Health Clinic, Vilseck, Germany. She enjoys seeing patients of all ages and practicing comprehensive optometry including the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, dry eyes, diabetic eye disease and eye infections.