Detecting glaucoma early can help save eyesight


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More than 3 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, according to the American Glaucoma Society.

This number is expected to grow with the changing demographics of the U.S. Glaucoma is the second biggest cause of blindness in the United States and the No. 1 cause among Hispanics. African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired than whites.

“The recommended eye care professional guideline is that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, especially for people over the age of 60 and people with high risk factors,” said Dr. Regine Pappas, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon with Pinnacle Eye Center in Melbourne.

“People with medical conditions such as diabetes, previous eye injuries, surgery or a family history of glaucoma may need an eye exam more frequently and sooner. The most common form of treatment for glaucoma is medication that can safely be used to control it. For most advanced cases, surgery is another treatment modality including lasers. There have been great advancements in diagnostic testing, medicines and glaucoma surgery the last several years. That gives many people the hope of saving the vision they have and a chance to keep from going blind.”

Laurie Jensen suffers from glaucoma, but she treated it from the outset.

“You don’t know that you have it when you get it,’’ Jensen said. “It’s not genetic, but it does run in families. Glaucoma is dark spots that interfere with seeing and affects the optical nerve. There is no cure for it, but you can treat it so it may not get worse.”

Jensen places drops in her eyes each day and she will continue this routine for the rest of her life.

“It is something you get used to and live with. My grandmother had it and lost her eyesight. I inherited her glaucoma. ‘OK, I say, enough grandma, don’t need anything else,” Jensen said with a grin.

Some symptoms of the disease include sudden blurry vision, seeing rainbows or halos (especially at night which is due to fluid buildup in the front of the eye), loss of side or peripheral vision, severe eye or head pain, nausea or vomiting accompanied by eye pain, physical changes in eye appearance such as red-rimmed, swollen, change of iris color, encrusted eyelids, contact watering or red eyes, or the sudden loss of sight.