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Glaucoma primer

» Symptoms

» Diagnosis

» Treatment

Living with glaucoma

If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, it’s important to be proactive about managing your condition:

  • Use your medication as directed. It may help to time doses around meals or other routine tasks.
  • See your doctor regularly for exams and follow-up care.
  • Be honest about limitations. Certain activities may be more challenging, and some—such as driving—are downright dangerous if vision is impaired.
  • Own up to your emotions. Confronting a new diagnosis can be overwhelming. Reach out to loved ones, your doctor or a support group if you need help.

Glaucoma is a condition that affects the optic nerve in one or both eyes. It can cause severe vision loss and is a leading cause of blindness. Although anyone can get glaucoma, it’s more prevalent among those ages 60 and older and in certain ethnic groups.

There are several types of glaucoma. Open-angle, the most common, involves a gradual buildup of fluid pressure in the eye. But not everyone with increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma.

Symptoms

Because most cases of glaucoma develop slowly, you may not notice any symptoms at first. When vision loss does occur, it may be so gradual that it’s unnoticeable in the beginning. This is why it’s important to get regular eye exams, including glaucoma screenings. If glaucoma is untreated, peripheral or side vision begins to fade, resulting in tunnel vision, which eventually begins to diminish.

Diagnosis

To diagnose or rule out glaucoma, the National Eye Institute recommends comprehensive eye exams that include:

  • Visual acuity test: An eye chart test measures how well you see at various distances.
  • Visual field test: This tests your peripheral vision, a key indicator of glaucoma.
  • Dilated eye exam: Your doctor uses special eyedrops to widen your pupils so that he or she can examine your retina and optic nerve for damage.
  • Tonometry: A special instrument gauges your eye pressure.
  • Pachymetry: An ultrasonic wave instrument is used to test the thickness of your cornea.

Treatment

Although glaucoma damage can’t be reversed, treatment can help control the disease and prevent further vision loss. Medications may be in eyedrop or pill form. Some people may benefit from laser or conventional surgery. Because some medications may lose their effectiveness over time, or you might not notice if your vision is slowly worsening, your doctor will continue to monitor your condition to ensure that treatment is working.


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