Regular Eye Exams Are Key in Fighting a Disease That Can Rob You of Your Sight

Called the "silent thief of the night,” glaucoma can creep up unnoticed, especially in its early stages. In fact, people who have glaucoma - the name given to a group of diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve - might not even know they have it until it's too late. The disease starts with imperceptible blind spots at the edges of the field of vision, progresses to tunnel vision, and then ultimately leads to blindness if left untreated. In fact, glaucoma creates at least some vision loss in more than half of the approximately 2.5 million Americans with the disease and is the second leading cause of blindness.

While anyone can develop glaucoma, some people are at higher risk: African Americans over the age of 40, people with a family history of glaucoma, and everyone over age 60. The best way to prevent against damage caused by glaucoma is by following the tips suggested below:

  • Get regular eye exams. Regular comprehensive eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its early stages before irreversible damage occurs. As a general rule, have an eye exam every three years up to the age of age 40, and every two years for those ages 40 to 65, and every one to two years for those over 65. You will probably need more frequent screening if you are at risk.
  • Treat elevated eye pressure. An elevation of the pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure (IOP), has traditionally been blamed for damaging the optic nerve and creating the loss of vision that occurs in glaucoma. Glaucoma eye drops can significantly reduce the risk that elevated eye pressure will progress to glaucoma. However, these drops must be taken regularly to be effective.
  • Eat healthily and exercise regularly. While maintaining a healthy diet won't prevent glaucoma, it can help you keep your weight down and control high blood pressure (a risk factor for developing the disease). In addition, a regular program of moderate exercise, such as walking or jogging three or more times every week, can lower your IOP and benefit your overall health.
  • Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can also lead to glaucoma. Wearing eye protection when engaged in high-impact sports activities (such as racket sports on enclosed courts) and home improvement projects. Hats and sunglasses to protect your eyes are highly recommended if you spend time outdoors.