Don't Get Blind Sided

Taking a closer look at Glaucoma

Glaucoma can be treated

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Glaucoma can’t be prevented nor can the damage caused by this silent thief of vision be reversed. But once diagnosed, it can be treated and further vision loss can be halted. Diagnostics testing is better than ever before, and safer treatments are increasingly available, says ophthalmologist Dr. Leonard Rappaport.

That’s good news for the approximately 2.2 million Americans who may have glaucoma, says Rappaport, of Tidewater Eye Centers, with offices in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. As the Baby Boomers age, the number of people with glaucoma is expected to increase to 3.3 million by the year 2020. In the United States, 80,000–110,000 people are blind in both eyes because of glaucoma, Rappaport says.

High blood pressure in the eye, called ocular pressure, is the main culprit of the optic nerve damage caused by the most common type of glaucoma—open angle glaucoma, Rappaport says. Although the optic nerve damage can’t be reversed, it can be halted with treatment that includes drops, lasers and surgery, Rapport says.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans and is about four times more common than for people of European ancestry, according to The Glaucoma Foundation. Open angle glaucoma appears about 10 years earlier in blacks than in whites and progresses more rapidly, the foundation says.

People with advancing glaucoma gradually lose the edges of their peripheral vision—imagine watching a movie and gradually losing sight of the far edges.

“Glaucoma often is referred to as a silent disease or the sneak thief of sight,” Rappaport says. “The patient is not aware of the damage to the side vision. Only in the end stage when it starts to affect the central vision does the patient become more aware of it. At this point, it’s much more difficult to treat, and we can’t reverse any of the damage that has already occurred.”

With high blood pressure, you can adopt better habits—eat healthy, exercise more, lose weight—and probably see improvement. Unfortunately that’s not the case with high ocular pressure, says Dr. Sam Garrett of Virginia Beach Eye Center.

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