As previously discussed in Lifelines, glaucoma is among the reasons why eye exams should be a regular part of your preventive health care.
You are gambling with your vision if you think the only time you need to have your eyes checked is when you get a new pair of glasses. Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness, has no symptoms in its early stages. In the United States alone, nearly three million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of them know it. Once glaucoma is detected, steps can be taken to slow its progression, but any vision that’s already been lost cannot be regained. Diagnosis is the first step in preserving your sight.
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that damage the optic nerve, a cable of nerve fibers in the back of the eye that carries visual information to the brain. This damage, which is irreversible and in most instances goes unnoticed in its early stages, is most often caused by elevated pressure inside the eye. This happens when fluid in the eye that keeps tissues moist and healthy doesn’t drain as it should. However, glaucoma can also develop when eye pressure is normal.
As glaucoma progresses, blind spots develop first in a person’s peripheral (side) vision. A person may notice that they are seeing objects directly in front of them but missing those to the side. As the disease advances, the field of vision continues to narrow until total blindness occurs.
Certain Factors Increase Risk
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but some people are more at risk than others. Because most forms of glaucoma are silent in the early stages, it’s essential to know the risk factors. These include:
- Family history
- Being an African American over the age of 40
- Being over the age of 60 (especially Hispanic Americans)
What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk?
Regular vision checkups that include a comprehensive dilated eye exam that allows an eye doctor to view the optic nerve are the best way to detect glaucoma and other vision-robbing conditions before they cause serious damage to your sight. An eye doctor will also measure eye pressure and inspect the drainage angle of the eye. Medicare Part B covers an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam for some people at high risk for glaucoma.
If You Have Glaucoma
Depending on the type and severity, treatment for glaucoma can include eye drops, medications, laser procedures and surgical operations. If you are taking medications for glaucoma, make your other health care professionals aware. This will help them prescribe treatment that does not interfere with what you’re already taking.
What Else Can You Do?
The LHSFNA’s Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers program can help Laborers improve dietary and exercise habits that can benefit general physical well-being, including eye health. The program includes an instructor’s guide and participant pamphlets.
It’s also important to be aware that smoking can increase pressure inside the eye, making it another reason to encourage Laborers who smoke to quit. The Laborers’ Guide to Tobacco and Quit Smoking Survival Kits offer suggestions and tips for breaking the tobacco habit. These and other health and safety materials can be ordered through the Fund’s Publications Catalogue or by calling 202-628-5465.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]