Judson Haims: Glaucoma affects people of all ages — not just the elderly
Glaucoma is the leading cause of potentially preventable blindness. Currently, it is estimated that in the United States about 3 million people over the age 40 have glaucoma. This is not a disease that is specific only to an elder population. If we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations, the National Eye Institute predicts that by 2030, the numbers may reach 4.2 million.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve and is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States and the world. Unfortunately, many experts estimate that half of the people affected don’t know they have it. Unfortunately, right now, we have nothing to restore vision loss from this disease.
Glaucoma is asymptomatic. Therefore, by the time you may become aware of a vision issue, odds are that there has already been an estimated 60% damage (this is irreversible). According to a poll conducted by the Academy of Ophthalmology:
• While 81% of adults say they are knowledgeable about eye/vision health, less than 1 in 5 (19%) were able to correctly identify the three main causes of blindness in the U.S., which are glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease.
• Less than half (47%) are aware that vision loss and blindness does not affect all people equally.
• Only around one-third of adults (37%) know you do not always experience symptoms before you lose vision to eye diseases.
Think cannabis is an option? The answer is yes and no. Why? Because, while research has been supported by the National Eye Institute, the American Glaucoma Society, and the Institute of Medicine, studies indicate that it only lowers pressure within the eye for a short period of time — about three or four hours. (Yes, you could use cannabis every three hours.) Because eye pressure for proper treatment of glaucoma needs to be managed 24 hours a day, marijuana is not an effective long-term treatment.
Currently, the only way to control glaucoma and prevent vision loss is to lower the pressure within the eye for extended periods of time. There are three commonly accepted means of accomplishing this.
The first option is by use of eye drops which have proven to have longer lasting effects.
The second option commonly available is the use of laser surgery called trabeculoplasty whereby the eye’s drainage system is changed in a way that fluid is able to pass more easily out of the eye.
The third option available consists of two different types of laser applications. One is called Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty and the other is called Argon laser trabeculoplasty.
These are newer laser procedures that use very low levels of energy. Laser energy is applied to the trabecular meshwork (a spongy tissue) which promotes drainage through tissue in the eye. This starts a chemical and biological change in the tissue that results in better drainage of fluid through the drain and out of the eye.
The laser trabeculoplasty procedures can be done without being admitted to the hospital. However, patients may need to be checked by the doctor within a couple hours of the surgery. Follow-up exams also are recommended, and patients often need to continue taking medicine after the surgery to keep down the pressure in their eyes.
For those people who spend much of their time in front of computer and handheld screens, in addition to offices that are using modern LED lighting, you should educate yourselves about the effects of short-wavelength visible light. According to the American Optometric Association, “Most digital devices and newer LED and fluorescent lights emit more wavelengths near the shorter, or bluer, part of the spectrum. High and continual exposure to these wavelengths can cause slow damage to the retina, which may result in problems like age-related macular degeneration later in life. Special glasses and lens coatings are available to block short-wavelength visible light.”
Nothing can help your eyes better than a yearly visit to the eye doctor. Find a local eye doctor and start being proactive.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.
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