Glaucoma – The Silent Thief of Sight, part 1

Dr. Timothy Kenkel

glaucoma_ no ctaGlaucoma is a disease which causes damage to the optic nerve fibers. The optic nerve fibers transmit what you see with your eye to the back of your brain. If the fibers are damaged or if they are thinning out, they can start affecting your vision. Usually when people are in the early stages of glaucoma they start to lose their peripheral vision. When one eye loses peripheral vision the other eye (which does not have glaucoma) will compensate for this and the person doesn’t even feel or see that they are missing any peripheral vision. Exactly for this reason, glaucoma is considered the “silent thief of sight”.

People just don’t feel or notice that they have a problem until they are already past mid-stage glaucoma. There are no symptoms at all until mid-stage. Only in mid-stage glaucoma will people start to notice changes in their vision. They may say, “Wow! I don’t see as well as I used to.” They may also see they have more tunnel vision. Unless you go to your optometrist or ophthalmologist for regular eye exams, where they can detect the early stages of glaucoma, most people won’t know they have it. Most of my patients who are diagnosed with glaucoma did not know they had it until we examined their eyes at the office and found they did indeed have it. They just had no symptoms. Additionally, glaucoma is not preventable as far as we know. There really aren’t any precautions to take or things to avoid to prevent it.

There are three risk factors we look for in detecting glaucoma. Optic nerve damage, eye pressure and family history of glaucoma. During our regular eye exam, we will dilate the eyes, and we look inside the eye at the optic nerve and evaluate how the nerve head appears. This is the key component in determining the risk factor for glaucoma.

Eye pressure is also measured to see if it is elevated. However, someone can have “normal” eye pressure and still have glaucoma. This is quite common and is called Low-Tension Glaucoma. We also take the patients family history. That is very important. If a patient has any issues with one of the above: 1) abnormal optic nerve head, 2) elevated eye pressure, and or 3) a family history of glaucoma, we will run further tests to determine if the patient has glaucoma or not.

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