By Dr. Joshua Udoetuk
Glaucoma is a silent disease that can lead to permanent loss of vision. While it affects people from all walks of life, it strikes African- Americans at much higher rates than other ethnicities. Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. The exact cause remains unknown, but many cases are associated with elevated pressure within the eye.
A leading cause of blindness
About 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, but many don’t know it. There are often no symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma, so early detection is crucial. In fact, glaucoma is known as the “silent thief of sight” because of the slow, progressive nature of the disease and the absence of early symptoms. Because of this, it’s important to have your eyes checked at least once a year.
Glaucoma often strikes earlier and worsens faster in African-Americans, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. You’re also at a higher risk if you:
• Have a family member with glaucoma
• Are older than 60, although it’s also possible for even infants and children to have glaucoma
• Have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or sickle cell anemia
• Have had an eye injury
• Have been taking corticosteroid medications for a lengthy time
Open-angle glaucoma, the most common and dangerous form of the disease, usually has no noticeable symptoms until the disease causes significant vision loss.
With the other type of glaucoma, known as narrow-angle glaucoma, patients may notice:
• Redness and pain in the eye
• Halos around lights
• Blurred vision
• A larger than normal pupil
The damage caused by glaucoma can’t be reversed, but treatment and regular checkups can help slow or prevent vision loss, especially if the disease is caught in its early stages.
Treatment and prevention strategies
Glaucoma is treated by lowering your eye pressure. Depending on your situation, your options may
include prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser treatment, surgery, or a combination of any of these.
You can help prevent glaucoma by:
• Getting regular, comprehensive eye exams
• Engaging in regular, moderate exercise to help reduce eye pressure
• Wearing eye protection to avoid eye injury
• Taking prescribed eye drops regularly, even when symptoms aren’t present
• Eating a healthy diet
Be sure to review any possible risk factors you may have for glaucoma with your eye doctor. Based on that, he or she can recommend an exam schedule that’s right for you.
Dr. Joshua Udoetuk is Associate Chief of Ophthalmology at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He cares for patients at the Berthelsen Main Campus and at the Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. To schedule an appointment, call 713-442-0000.