Vision Health and Glaucoma – “The Silent Thief of Sight”
Imagine that you are having some vision problems, and finally seek help from an eye doctor. During your appointment, the doctor informs you that your vision cannot be restored, and you are going blind. Unfortunately, this scenario is a reality for millions of Americans that have neglected their vision health and the opportunity to suppress glaucoma.
I recently talked with Dr. Steven Weisfeld, a 30-year veteran of optometry, about glaucoma – the disease that silently takes your sight.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in the world with more than 2.7 million cases in the United States. The disease permanently damages the optic nerve, and gradually decreases peripheral vision, working toward the central vision. The end stages eventually lead to blindness if left untreated.
Since glaucoma starts with peripheral vision loss, symptoms may go unnoticed by the patient until it’s too late, Dr. Weisfeld explains. There is no current cure for this disease. Optic damage or vision loss cannot be restored. However, if diagnosed in a timely manner, treatment can slow and sometimes prevent the disease’s progression, another incentive for annual eye exams and early detection.
“If you’re noticing vision problems, resulting in a glaucoma diagnosis, the disease has usually progressed,” says Dr. Weisfeld.
“A routine eye exam is the number one way to diagnose glaucoma and preserve eyesight,” Dr. Weisfeld said. In addition to tests, optometrists consider two important risk factors, family history and race, when making a diagnosis.
Within the last 20 years, major breakthroughs in vision science have included a better understanding of the various types of glaucoma and its treatment. Dr. Weisfeld explained that new technology and instrumentation allow practitioners to more accurately diagnose patients with a series of tests during a comprehensive eye exam.
The first test measures what is usually the most obvious factor of the disease, eye pressure. Optometrists also perform tests to assess peripheral vision and cornea thickness. An optometrist may also order an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to evaluate the optic nerve and existing nerve damage, to accurately determine a diagnosis.
“Thirty years ago, optometrists had difficulty with early detection and diagnosis of glaucoma. Today’s new technology, pharmacology and instrumentation have changed that,” Dr. Weisfeld said. “Still, the only way to catch it early is to get a yearly eye exam!”