Believing Before Seeing: Glaucoma
While an estimated 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, only half know it. This lack of awareness is largely due to the fact that open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of this vision-robbing eye disease, presents no early symptoms. There is usually no pain associated with the increase in inner eye pressure that often accompanies the disease, and vision loss often begins with loss of peripheral (side) vision. Even then, those with glaucoma may scarcely notice a problem and simply compensate with an unconscious sideward turn of their heads. By the time they realize that there is something wrong, much of their vision may be irretrievably lost. Thus, it is essential to schedule regular, comprehensive eye exams. Blindness from glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
If left untreated, the complications of glaucoma can be devastating. Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States and the world among the working age population. Eye physicians and surgeons “ophthalmologists” are medical doctors (DO or MD), who have undergone specialized training in order to treat eye diseases and to perform surgery.
Diabetes and Eye Disease
While diabetes has an obvious link to “diabetic retinopathy” (damage of the small blood vessels in the retina), its association with other eye diseases may not be so obvious. In fact, the increase in cataracts and glaucoma in this country may be partly linked to the higher prevalence of diabetes. While cataracts (opacities of the eye lens) generally develop in older individuals, diabetics can develop cataracts at any earlier age. Their cataracts may also develop more rapidly than those in people without diabetes. In addition, diabetics are more likely to develop “neovascular glaucoma,” which involves the formation of new blood vessels on the iris that block the normal flow of fluid out of the eye and raise eye pressure. Diabetics are urged to visit the ophthalmologist for regular checkups in addition to managing their blood sugar levels to help avert eye complications.
–William S. Mayo, DO is a double board certified ophthalmologist who has been practicing in Oxford, Mississippi since 1990 and is the owner of Mayo Eye Center. He has also been a member of the American Osteopathic Association Board of Trustees since 2007.