I’ll never forget when I met two women in their early 30s who were completely blind. I had assumed that they were blind since birth but learned that they had both lost their sight in their late 20s due to glaucoma. I met them in the early aughts, and it was hard to believe that in the 21st century something as preventable as end-stage glaucoma could still steal someone’s eyesight, and yet it can – and did – especially without regular check-ups.
The average American isn’t great about getting their eyes checked, and in developing countries, where I met the two women, the rate is even lower due primarily to the lack of access to eye care.
While those most at risk for glaucoma are over 60, it can still affect people of all ages, beginning with babies, according to the experts, including the Glaucoma Research Foundation. And glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). But it’s sneaky because it has no early symptoms. That’s why about 50 percent of people with glaucoma do not even realize they have it.
Even people who are good about getting an annual physical often don’t bother to get their eyes examined. Instead, eye exams often happen by default: you can’t get new glasses or renew your contact lens prescription after a certain number of years without one (typically two years for glasses and one year for contact lenses). And while this can feel like a nuisance, it’s actually a blessing.
The way to verify if you have glaucoma is to get a dilated eye exam. And while there’s currently no cure, early treatment can make a big difference by preventing it from getting worse. Some of the ways it can be treated are through medication, including prescription eye drops; laser treatment; and surgery.
Now that you’ve been educated, why not make this the year you get your eyes checked. We’re fortunate enough in the United States that eye care is widely available. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always affordable. If finances are holding you back, there are many community health centers that offer eye exams at a reduced cost and sometimes for free. Additionally, colleges and universities with an optometry or ophthalmology program often offer low-cost eye care. Whatever your situation is, make eye care a priority, especially if you fall into one of the categories below:
PEOPLE AT HIGHER RISK FOR GLAUCOMA according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
- Are over 60 years old
- Are of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent
- Have relatives with glaucoma
- Are very nearsighted (myopic) or far-sighted (hyperopic)
- Use steroid medications
- Have high eye pressure
- Have a thin central cornea
- Have had an eye injury
This information is for educational purposes. Please consult your physician for any medical issues. The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is committed to bringing trusted and quality home health, private care and hospice to Indian River County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 772-494-6161 or visit www.vnatc.com.