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Glaucoma: The "Sneak Thief" of Sight

January 15, 2018
Eat right. Stay fit. Don't smoke or drink. For many of today's most common diseases, there are simple prevention tips we've heard again and again. However, when it comes to glaucoma, which is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and the leading cause of irreversible blindness in African Americans, there are no precautionary habits to practice. "It's important for patients to know that this is not on them," says Tanvi Shah, MD, a board-certified GBMC ophthalmologist. "Unlike diabetes or high blood pressure, there is no diet, exercise, or anything you can do to change whether or not you'll develop glaucoma."

Glaucoma has no signs or symptoms; you cannot see or feel it. In fact, it's possible to have very advanced glaucoma, including partial peripheral blindness, and not even notice it. It's often referred to as the "sneak thief" of sight because vision loss occurs slowly and painlessly — it could go unnoticed for years, even decades. There is only one way to find out if you have it: routine eye exams with an ophthalmologist.

Glaucoma is a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball (that you can't feel), which causes gradual loss of sight. More than 3 million Americans have been diagnosed with vision loss due to glaucoma, though its causes are still unknown. It is more common in African Americans and Hispanics, and it can run in families.

Though there are treatments available for glaucoma, including eye drops, laser, and surgery, these can only prevent further loss of vision; it is not possible to restore lost vision. This is why it's imperative to have yearly eye exams when you're over 40 years old (or sooner if you have a family history of glaucoma). A glaucoma test is non-invasive, involving checking the eye pressure, dilating eye drops (called mydriatrics) and the ophthalmologist examining your eyes with a light.

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you can still live a very normal life. "It is very treatable with monitoring and compliance and only leads to complete blindness in rare cases," says Dr. Shah. "Committing to regular eye exams is the key."

For more information, visit www.gbmc.org/ophthalmology
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