Mayo Clinic: I’m 45 years old, and I just started wearing
glasses a few years ago. I usually go to my eye doctor once a
year for a checkup. During those exams, in addition to
checking my vision, my doctor looks for signs of glaucoma.
What is glaucoma? Who’s most likely to get it?
Glaucoma, which is a group of serious eye disorders that
damage the optic nerve, is the leading cause of preventable
blindness in the developed world. Because it rarely causes
symptoms in its early stages, regular eye exams that include
checking for glaucoma are important. A variety of factors can
raise your risk for glaucoma, including age and having a
family history of the disease.
optic nerve is a bundle of nerve fibers that goes from the
back of your eyeball to your brain. It serves as the
communication cable between the two, allowing you to see. In
most cases of glaucoma, the optic nerve is damaged by a rise
in pressure within the eye. The elevated pressure usually is
due to a blockage of the eye’s drainage channels, preventing
fluid that is constantly produced in the eye to flow out of
it. As the nerve deteriorates, blind spots develop in your
vision. If left untreated, glaucoma leads to blindness.
early stages, glaucoma usually doesn’t have any symptoms.
Typically, it is not until the late stages of the disease —
after significant damage already has been done — that people
who have glaucoma begin to notice eye problems, such as loss
of peripheral vision. That’s why it’s crucial to get
regular eye exams that include looking at the appearance of
the optic nerve through a microscope, as well as a measure of
the pressure within your eye. If your doctor suspects
glaucoma, he or she may recommend other tests, too.
general, a comprehensive eye exam is recommended once every
two to four years for people 40 to 54 and every one to three
years for those 55 to 64 — even if you have no problems with
your eyes or vision. After 65, you should have a comprehensive
eye exam every one to two years. Depending on your risk
factors, these exams may need to be more or less frequent.
the most significant risk factors for glaucoma are age and
family history. People older than 60 develop glaucoma much
more frequently than younger individuals. And the disease
tends to run in families. If you have a close relative who’s
been diagnosed with glaucoma, make sure your eye doctor is
aware of that.
risk factors for glaucoma may include having high or low blood
pressure, as well as other medical conditions such as
diabetes, heart disease and hypothyroidism. However, in most
people, glaucoma is not associated with other diseases. A
severe eye injury can put you at risk for glaucoma, as can
certain types of eye surgery and being nearsighted or
background also appears to impact a person’s risk of
developing glaucoma. African-Americans who are older than 40
have a much higher risk for developing glaucoma than
Caucasians. African-Americans also are more likely to suffer
permanent blindness as a result of glaucoma. People of Asian
descent also have an increased risk of developing certain
types of glaucoma.
glaucomas cannot be prevented, but regular eye exams can catch
this condition early. Although there’s no way to reverse
damage that’s been done to the optic nerve, treatment to
lower pressure in the eye can prevent or slow vision loss due
to glaucoma. Review any possible risk factors you may have for
glaucoma with your eye doctor. Based on that, he or she can
recommend an exam schedule that’s right for you.