THE BEST REASON FOR REGULAR EYE EXAMS IS ....
for the detection of glaucoma. Glaucoma is an eye disease sometimes called "the theif in the night." That's because glaucoma seldom causes any eye pain, discomfort or other symptoms. However, undetected and untreated, glaucoma causes a gradual and non-reversible loss of vision. First the peripheral vision is lost and, in the end, the central vision is also lost. People can and do go blind from untreated glaucoma, but if it is detected early and treated, in almost all cases vision can be preserved. Regular eye exams are essential to detect glaucoma in its early stages.
What exactly is glaucoma? It is an eye condition in which the fluid pressure inside the teye is too high. This eye fluid is call aqueous. The randge of normal pressure for the auqeous is between 10 and 20 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). It can be compared to air pressure in a tire. If the pressure is too high, the tire performs poorly and wears out faster. It is similar for the eye, however, low pressure is seldom a problem or concern.
High pressure can damage the sensitive optic nerve in the back of your eye. Aqueous fluid is continually being produced by the eye and draned by the eye. In other words, there is a constant turn over in the aqueous fluid. Another example to better understand glaucoma, is to compare it to a lake, with water continually running in and running out. If there is too much water running in or not enough water running out, the water level of the lake will rise. In the eye, if too much fluid is produced or not enought drains our (through small channels into tiny blood vessels), then the eye pressure goes up.
Who can get glaucoma? Anybody. It can occur at any age but is very rare under age 30. The older a person is, the greater the chance of developing glaucoma. Over age 60, nearly 2% of the population will have or develop glaucoma. There is also a hereditary factor. If glaucoma runs in your family among blood relatives, there is a high likelihood that you will get it.
How do we diagnose glaucoma? When you have an eye exam, the eye doctor will measure your intra-ocular pressure. Your optic nerve will also be examined to see if it shows any signs of damage from pressure. If glaucoma is suspected, you will be given a "field of vision" or peripheral vision test. Sometimes your eye will need to be checked several times over a period of months before confirming a diagnosis of glaucoma, it is still important to have this checked along with a complete eye exam at least every two years.
How is glaucoma treated? The answer is usually with eye drops. There are many kinds of drops available, but they do not all work for all people. Your doctor will determine which drops are best for you. In general, the drops work by either reducing the production of aqueous fluid, or by increasing the aqueous outflow. Another effective method of treatment is by laser - called laser trabeculoplasty. This is an office procedure which is painless and only takes a few minutes per eye. Although the laser treatment effectively loweres the intra-ocular pressure by improving the aqueous outflow, it does not guarantee that drops will not also be necessary. Rearely, actual surgery is required to control the eye pressure.
How do we follow glaucoma patients? This is done by examining the patient's eyes every four months. The eye pressure is always checked. In addition, three other tests are performed each year, one being performed at each of the three visits per year. These tests are: bisual field (to check peripheral vision and for blind spots), potographs of the optic nerves (to document their appearance), and a scanning laser picture of the optic nerves and retinal nerve fiber layer (to accurately measure and record these areas for future comparison). It is important that glaucoma patients return regularly at four-month intervals for these tests, which indicate how well the treatment if working and whether any changes in therapy need to be made. By following the doctors treatment plan, you can be sure that everything is being done to preserve your vision.