How to detect glaucoma, prevent permanent loss of vision

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time to spread the word about the sight-stealing disease.

It’s like a thief that comes quietly in the night, only this thief doesn’t steal property, it steals your dreams by taking away your eyesight.

“For most people, it’s a slow progression and so you don’t wake up and say, ‘Oh, I’m not seeing too good, I must have glaucoma,'” said Dr. Michael VanLangeveld, optometrist for InSpecs Eyewear.

Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight” since there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it’s permanent.

“Most glaucoma are painless. They don’t manifest themselves unless someone finds them or diagnoses them,” VanLangeveld said.

Currently, more than three million people in the United States have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030.

Sadly, a majority of them will never know that a thief has made its way into their lives.

“You need to be checked. Many people are walking around with glaucoma and they don’t know it,” VanLangeveld said.

But this blindness is preventable. Visual screenings are vital when it comes to glaucoma prevention.

“The whole key to preventing blindness from glaucoma is early detection and the only way you can do that is through a dilated exam,” VanLangeveld said.

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, usually associated with elevated eye pressure.

The damage to the optic nerve happens very slowly and that damage, if it’s unchecked, goes on to cause blindness.

“The eye has fluid that’s always coming in and fluid that’s draining, so either too much is coming in or not enough is draining and the end result is that it kills the nerves in the back of the eyes,” VanLangeveld said.

But thanks to laser technology and other treatments, along with early screening and regular eye exams, glaucoma can be identified and managed early.

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