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Glaucoma Awareness Month: Get checked

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

By: Jeff Ash

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Glaucoma sneaks up on you.


You usually don’t notice it creeping in and stealing your peripheral vision – your side vision – but your eye doctor will. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams that include glaucoma screening.


More than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that gradually erases vision, often without warning. By the time most people notice, damage to the optic nerve has caused vision loss.


January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Awareness is crucial, especially given that another 1.2 million Americans are expected to be affected by glaucoma by 2030, according to the National Eye Institute.


“This is a condition that may take decades to cause vision loss,” says Dr. Joseph T. Bergmann, an ophthalmologist who specializes in glaucoma care at BayCare Clinic Eye Specialists.


Glaucoma affects all ages, but most often middle-aged and elderly people.


Most at risk of glaucoma: Family members of people diagnosed with glaucoma and people of African, Asian or Hispanic descent. Others at risk: People over 60, diabetics and those who are severely nearsighted.


“The vast majority of glaucoma is an inherited condition. There’s typically no life event where a person catches the disease. Rather, they were born with the genetics that put them at a risk for it,” Bergmann says.


“When a patient comes in, we do a visual field. It’s a map of a person’s vision generated when a patient is asked to hit a button when they see a blinking light, and the blinking light moves from the peripheral vision into the central vision. By doing that, it allows us to visualize the function of the eye, or the optic nerve. By doing that, we can best determine if there’s any early damage.”


The key, Bergmann says, is to catch glaucoma in its early stages.


“Early changes caused by glaucoma won’t change a patient’s life most of the time. It’ll be out on the periphery of their vision. They won’t notice it,” he says. “If we can stop or slow the disease there, then we can keep the patient seeing well and functioning fully throughout their lifespan.”


That, again, is best done through regular eye exams. Get yours.

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