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Don’t let glaucoma sneak up on you

Pressure has a knack for creeping into our lives. People feel it in their jobs, their social circles, and certainly in any kind of competition from an athletic event to a game of bridge.

Ironically, one place where it’s hard to see pressure is in your eyes.

That kind of pressure can eventually build into the second leading cause of blindless: Glaucoma. Since it’s National Glaucoma Awareness Month, here’s what you need to be aware of.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease where pressure begins to climb. This leads to damage to the optic nerve (the cable in the eye that carries information to the brain.) This damage is permanent, and if not treated, leads to irreversible blindness.

Glaucoma is called the “sneak thief of sight” because there are no warning signs and no symptoms until the disease starts to rob you of your vision.

“By the time most patients are aware of any lost vision from glaucoma, it is generally too late to save it. That’s why it’s critically important to get checked regularly by an eye care specialist,” says Dr. Evan Dreyer, Director of Glaucoma Services at Glaucoma-Cataract Consultants located on the 7th floor of St. Clair Health’s Dunlap Family Outpatient Center.

Knowing your family history can also be helpful, since glaucoma is a genetic disease. It’s also 6-8 times more likely to surface in African Americans than in Caucasians. It’s important to be aware of these factors because the only way to prevent glaucoma from advancing is to catch the disease early.

“There are many ways of treating glaucoma. These include prescribed drops, lasers, medication, and sometimes surgery. If we catch it early enough, glaucoma can almost always be stopped in its tracks,” assures Dr. Dreyer.

Catching Glaucoma Early

Screening for glaucoma should be a part of your annual eye exam. Since there’s no benchmark for ‘normal’ or ‘elevated’ eye pressure, it’s important for your care team to have a steady stream of data points on your eye pressure. This gives them the best chance to spot any increases in your eye pressure and act accordingly.

“Catching glaucoma early is absolutely our best chance at preserving your vision,” adds Dr. Dreyer. “Awareness months like the one we’re in now are powerful tools for us. We just wouldn’t be talking about our eye pressure otherwise.”

We should also be aware that glaucoma affects 3 million people in the US right now and experts believe that number will swell to 4.2 million over the next eight years as our population ages.

In addition to tracking your pressure, a qualified eyecare provider will search for changes in your side vision and look at your optic nerve. Glaucoma often initially manifests by obscuring the edges of your vision. If left untreated, more of the optic nerve will get damaged causing that vision loss to travel from the edges to the center, eventually leading to total blindness.

While there are ways that we can treat glaucoma, the best way to slow its advancement is keeping up with regular screenings. Make an appointment with your eye care specialist. Get screened for glaucoma regularly. Ask questions. Don’t let glaucoma sneak up on you. And if you notice a change in your eyesight or field of vision, contact your eye doctor immediately.

Evan B. Dreyer, M.D.

Evan B. Dreyer, M.D. practices with Glaucoma-Cataract Consultants, Inc. and specializes in Ophthalmology. He earned his medical degree from Harvard University. Dr. Dreyer completed his residency and fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary. He is board certified in Ophthalmology and his primary office location is at St. Clair Health Dunlap Family Outpatient Center. To contact Dr. Dreyer, please call 412.572.6121.