Myths and Facts About Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a collection of eye diseases that attack and destroy the optic nerve, the structure at the back of your eye that turns light waves into electrical signals that go to the brain for visual processing. 

Over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half are aware of it. That's because symptoms usually aren’t noticeable until the disease is advanced.

At Omphroy Eye Care in Aiea, Hawaii, ophthalmologist Dr. Luis C. Omphroy diagnoses and treats glaucoma. He tests for the disease each time you come in for a complete eye exam, as early detection can prevent its progression and help save your sight.

Unfortunately, though, there are many myths and urban legends surrounding glaucoma, which can interfere with getting the medical care you need. Here, Dr. Omphroy discusses and debunks a number of those myths.

Myths and facts about glaucoma

There are many myths about glaucoma. Here are a few to get you started.

Myth: Glaucoma is a single disease

Fact: There are actually many forms of glaucoma. The two most common are primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma (ACG). 

In POAG, the eye’s drainage canals become clogged. This increases the eye’s internal pressure, which causes damage to the optic nerve. POAG develops slowly with no symptoms or warning signs, initially causing peripheral vision loss.

In ACG, the angle where the iris meets the cornea is closed, leading to increased eye pressure, optic nerve damage, and vision loss. It may occur suddenly or gradually and presents with such symptoms as blurry or hazy vision, rainbow-colored halos around lights, eye pain with or without nausea, and vision loss.

Myth: Glaucoma only occurs with elevated eye pressure

Fact: It’s true that elevated eye pressure is a major risk factor for glaucoma, but some people with elevated eye pressure never go on to develop the disease. This is known as ocular hypertension. 

It’s also possible to have severe glaucoma with normal eye pressures. This is called normal-tension glaucoma (NTG).

Many eye doctors don’t like the term NTG because it implies there’s such a thing as a normal eye pressure, when in reality, pressure varies within a range of readings. 

It’s also not clear if patients with an intraocular pressure lower than 21 mmHg (the pressure at which glaucoma is diagnosed) really have NTG as a separate disease from POAG, or if it’s simply part of the continuum that makes up POAG.

Regardless, it’s apparent that you can develop glaucoma even if your eye pressure never exceeds 21 mmHg. And the Collaborative Normal Tension Glaucoma Study demonstrated that lowering eye pressure in patients diagnosed with NTG slowed the disease’s progression.

Myth: Only old people get glaucoma

Fact: While people over 70 are at greatest risk of developing POAG, there are other types of glaucoma that affect people ages 20-50.

Young adults, especially if they’re African American or Latino, can get glaucoma, too. Your risk increases if you have a family history of the disease, or if you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or an eye injury.

Myth: Glaucoma testing is painful

Fact: There are a number of different tests for glaucoma, none of which is painful. One uses a device that blows a small puff of air into each eye to measure the pressure. 

The Goldmann applanation tonometry test uses an anesthetic eyedrop. After applying the drop, Dr. Omphroy uses a blue light to quickly touch the cornea and get a precise measurement. The wand test uses a device that bounces off the tears in your eye to get the reading, not even touching the surface.

The most accurate tests are optical coherence tomography (OCT) and visual field testing; both are noninvasive and painless.

Myth: Once you have glaucoma, there’s nothing to do

Fact: It’s true that there’s no cure for glaucoma, and once you’ve lost vision, you can’t get it back. But there are many effective treatment options: oral medications, eyedrops, and laser or surgical procedures that help stop or slow glaucoma progression.

All of the treatment options help fluid drain properly out of the eye. Decreased pressure inside the eye leads to decreased damage to the optic nerve.

The best way to stay on top of the condition, especially since POAG doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms early on, is to get regular eye exams.

If you haven’t had an eye exam in a while, or if you’re at risk for developing glaucoma, it’s time to come into Omphroy Eye Care for a checkup. To schedule, give our office a call at 808-491-6512 today.

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