Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve. It usually occurs when fluid builds up in the front of the eye, increasing pressure in the eye. It is estimated that nearly 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, but only about half know they have the condition.
Seniors are at a high risk for glaucoma and, untreated, it can lead to blindness. That’s why it’s so important for seniors to get regular eye health examinations from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, particularly if they show any early warning signs or are considered at high risk.
What Are the Signs of Glaucoma?There are different types of glaucoma, so warning signs may vary. Sometimes there are no symptoms, particularly in open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. Regular eye exams are the best way to tell if the pressure in the eye is too high. However, if you or a loved one experiences any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical help:
- Loss of peripheral (side) vision
- Any blurred vision or vision loss, especially if it’s sudden
- Seeing halos, or rainbow-colored circles, around lights
- Eye redness, especially accompanied by pain
- A hazy or cloudy-looking cornea
- Eye and head pain, especially if severe
- Tunnel vision, or narrowing of the visual field
- Nausea or vomiting associated with any of these other signs
These signs don’t necessarily mean you or a loved one has glaucoma. For example, head and eye pain, accompanied by nausea, can stem from migraines. Redness may indicate an eye injury or infection. But you should always visit the eye doctor to get these symptoms checked out.
Regular Eye Exams Are EssentialMost types of glaucoma cannot be prevented, but early detection and ongoing monitoring of eye health can limit vision loss caused by the disease. Some people have no signs of damage to the optic nerve but have higher-than-normal eye pressure (ocular hypertension). If you or a loved one falls into this category, you or they have a higher risk of eventually developing glaucoma and should be carefully monitored by an ophthalmologist.
If your eye doctor detects high pressure during an eye exam, he or she will conduct (or refer you for) a glaucoma exam. During that exam, the eye doctor will measure your eye pressure, inspect your eye’s drainage angle, examine your optic nerve and take a photo or computer measurement of it, test your peripheral vision and measure your cornea’s thickness.
If diagnosed with glaucoma, you will be given an eye drop medication to reduce the amount of fluid your eye produces or improve drainage of eye fluid, thereby reducing pressure in your eye. Some people may need laser surgery to drain fluid from the eye. Your eye doctor will help you decide which option is best for you.