The other day, I was having lunch with a friend who had just gotten her yearly eye exam at her local optometrist. Besides her expected nearsightedness and some trouble with dry eyes, her eye doctor did not have much to tell her, but that didn’t stop her from worrying over her husband. He refuses to have an eye exam, and he’s in his mid-forties. My friend asked me if she was worrying for no reason; after all, her husband’s vision has seemed to be fine for years. My response to my friend was the inspiration for this blog: hadn’t he ever heard of glaucoma, the leading worldwide cause of irreversible vision loss? Keep reading to learn about this “silent thief of eyesight” and how regular eye exams can prevent it from stealing your vision.

What is glaucoma?

As briefly discussed in a previous blog post, glaucoma describes a group of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve, which is a paired nerve connected to both eyeballs and responsible for relaying images from the retina to the brain. Without a properly-functioning optic nerve, these images cannot reach the brain, but how does damage to the optic nerve occur? The optic nerve is made up of millions of delicate nerve fibers; when these fibers are damaged, it will have a negative effect on your vision. Some experience a loss of peripheral vision followed by a progressive darkness while others develop blind spots from the damaged nerve fibers. How these fibers get damaged is not fully understood at this point, but we do know that both high eye pressure and low blood flow can play significant roles.

Why is glaucoma called the silent thief of eyesight?

The reason optometrists are so concerned with glaucoma is because it presents itself as asymptomatic, meaning it will likely be too late for treatments to be effective once the affected person begins to notice the vision loss. In fact, by the time the loss of vision becomes noticeable to the person, there may already be irreversible damage to up to 90 percent of his or her optic nerve fibers. This is why I immediately advised my friend to get her husband in for an eye exam. During regular eye exams, your optometrist will check for signs of glaucoma that you, the patient, cannot see without specialized tools and tests, such as damage to the optic nerve or increased eye pressure.

Are there warning signs of glaucoma?

Despite the fact that most people don’t present any initial symptoms of glaucoma, there are many signs you can look for that indicate a need for an eye exam. Schedule an eye test with your local optometrist to find out what’s causing your eye troubles:

  • Your eyes struggle with adjusting to dark places.
  • You have difficulty trying to focus on objects (near or distant).
  • You are seeing spots or ghostlike images.
  • You are experiencing double vision.
  • You find yourself blinking or squinting often due to light
  • Your eyes are dry, itchy, and/or burning.
  • You notice a change to the colour of your iris.
  • You notice a dark spot in the middle of your line of vision.

The following signs indicate possible medical emergencies. Seek emergency medical attention for any of the following:

  • You suddenly lose vision in one or both eyes.
  • You lose your vision as if a curtain is falling.
  • You are experiencing significant eye pain.

If you think there’s nothing you can do about glaucoma, think again. One of the best things you can do to promote early detection is to see your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam on a regular basis. Don’t wait to schedule your eye exam until you begin to notice vision loss. Let’s get proactive about glaucoma! To visit the Vision Care Centre of Langley for your eye exam, please call or contact us online.