Did you know that glaucoma affects over 3 million Americans today? The biggest threat surrounding this eye disease is not detecting it in the first place. That’s why regular eye exams are essential in recognizing and identifying the very first signs of glaucoma.
Optometrists have developed a series of tests that diagnose the disease and prevent further severity. Let’s explore the testing methods and why they are so essential for your visual health.
Am I at Risk of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases associated with damage to the optic nerve. Increased fluid in the front of the eye puts dangerous pressure on this nerve. This can be caused by trauma, high blood pressure, or hereditary reasons. Existing effects of glaucoma cannot be reversed. But there are many methods to identify the first signs of the disease and stop its’ development.
While glaucoma can affect anyone and people of all ages, it is more prevalent in people over the age of 60. People of Hispanic or African descent are also at a higher risk. Glaucoma is the #1 cause of blindness for Hispanic people in the US.
An unfortunate aspect of this disease is that it can go unnoticed for a long time until negative effects finally appear. There are few early symptoms or warning signs. Quite simply- the best way to manage glaucoma is to allow optometrists to monitor your eye health regularly. All adults should visit their eye doctor annually, and never let 2 years go by without a comprehensive eye exam.
What Glaucoma Tests Measure
Sometimes it takes multiple tests to get a full comprehension of your eye health and confirmation of glaucoma. Through these tests and measurements, optometrists can evaluate the degree of glaucoma and decide on the best treatments moving forward.
Visual Field Test
Also known as ‘perimetry’, this exam measures your peripheral vision, the ability to see things beyond your line of focus. While viewing through a special machine, you will be asked to identify flashing lights to test your visual range. This allows eye doctors to build a “map” of your visual field and help identify parts of the eye that could be problematic.
This procedure allows a doctor to examine the optic nerve for evidence of glaucoma damage. Special eye drops dilate the pupils providing a window to the back of the eye. A small light is directed into the eye magnifying the optic nerve. An optometrist can evaluate the nerve for abnormalities and make assessments for more extensive testing.
Goldmann Pressure Measuring
This is the most common and respected tonometry exam, which measures changes in eye pressure. Gently pressing a flat-tipped probe against the surface of the eye provides valuable information about the presence of glaucoma. Numbing eye drops are administered prior to the test to maximize comfort during this essential glaucoma exam. High-pressure readings can be an indicator of a high-risk patient.
Many patients will require supplementary exams to get an accurate diagnosis of glaucoma. A gonioscopy measures the angle at which your iris meets the cornea. Again using numbing eye drops, a mirrored contact lens is softly maneuvered onto the eye, giving the optometrist a reading on this angle. This information helps determine any early onset of different types of glaucoma.
The thickness of your cornea, which is the front portion of your eye, can affect intraocular pressure. A soft probe (pachymeter) is placed on the eye and takes a reading of corneal thickness. Understanding corneal thickness allows an eye doctor to make better judgements about your eye pressure and the potential of glaucoma.
Testing is Crucial
The bottom line is that early diagnosis of glaucoma may save you from going blind. Once negative effects of the disease have occurred, they are impossible to reverse. However, eye doctors can prescribe treatments to prevent the development of glaucoma when risks are present. Glaucoma management and treatment become infinitely easier with early diagnosis.
All glaucoma treatments are designed to lower pressure against the optic nerve and decrease intraocular pressure. Medicated eye drops are a very common method for controlling this eye disease. Depending on your exact condition, eye drops may reduce levels of aqueous fluid or allow fluid to pass through the eye more easily.
Protecting your vision can sometimes come with uncomfortable side effects. Some normal and expected reactions to glaucoma-related medication may include:
- Red eyes
- Stinging or itching
- Temporary blurred vision
- Changes in energy and pulse
- Dry mouth
- Slight changes in eye or skin color
In more extreme cases of glaucoma, laser surgery can be used to successfully treat the eye condition. An ophthalmologist will utilize laser technology to manipulate the drainage angle of the eye. This allows fluid to flow in and out at a normal level, reducing intraocular pressure and providing healthy fluid drainage.
Some patients may be required to treat glaucoma in the operating room. An ophthalmologist will make tiny incisions in the eye to promote proper drainage of fluid. In some cases, a minuscule tube may be implanted to assist this process. Glaucoma tests provide the blueprint for the most effective treatments for each patient.
Value Your Vision
We know for sure that regular eye exams reduce the onset of glaucoma and help manage the risks for patients that have signs of the disease. The first stages of glaucoma show no obvious signals or symptoms, which is why annual eye exams are so important, especially for older people.
Reach out to an optometrist and get a comprehensive assessment of your eye health. Eye care professionals can recommend the right glaucoma tests and detect eye disease at the earliest phase. Effective treatment is almost always an option when glaucoma is diagnosed immediately. Patients that value their own vision help avert glaucoma-related eye problems.