By Dr. Thandeka Myeni
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and as a Cataract and Glaucoma Surgeon, I feel it’s important that we talk about this topic and continue to build awareness. I have watched too many people cry and frankly, I am tired of seeing it.
Not long ago, I had to watch a woman cry when I told her that she had lost 90% of her vision and there was nothing I could do to bring it back. She was blind from glaucoma, a disease that causes painless, irreversible blindness. Glaucoma silently stole her sight. I wish I could have examined her ten years ago while there was still time to save her eyes. Then I stopped wishing and decided to take action. I had to get the word out to prevent others from losing their sight.
Often called the thief of sight, glaucoma slowly and painlessly destroys the optic nerve—the cable that connects your eye to your brain. So you can have an otherwise normal eye, but if that cable is damaged, you will not send a good signal to the brain, and that is how you lose vision. For some people this damage can occur when eye pressure is high. However, for many people damage from glaucoma occurs at low and normal eye pressures. Many people incorrectly believe that if their eye pressure is normal then they cannot have glaucoma. Below are six ways you can detect glaucoma in its early stages.
1. Ask the right questions: “Is there any evidence of optic nerve damage? What is my eye pressure? Do we need to do any additional testing for glaucoma?”
2. Get regular dilated eye examinations: As a general rule, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every five to 10 years if you're under 40 years old; every two to four years if you're 40 to 54 years old; every one to three years if you're 55 to 64 years old; and every one to two years if you're older than 65.
3. Know your family's eye health history. Glaucoma tends to run in families. If you're at increased risk, you may need more frequent screening.
4. Exercise safely. Regular, moderate exercise may help prevent glaucoma by reducing eye pressure. Talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise program.
5. Take prescribed eye-drops regularly. Glaucoma eye-drops can significantly reduce the risk that high eye pressure will progress to glaucoma. To be effective, eye-drops prescribed by your doctor need to be used regularly even if you have no symptoms.
6. Wear eye protection. Serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma. Wear eye protection when using power tools or playing high-speed racket sports in enclosed courts.
Now, I hope that everyone who is reading this blog will do all the above to protect your eyes. I don’t want to see another person cry.
About the Author: Thandeka Myeni, MD, MPH is a board-certified ophthalmologist with specialty training in glaucoma, cataract surgery and LASIK. Dr. Myeni received her bachelor’s degree from Amherst College then earned a Master Degree in Public Health from Harvard University. She obtained her medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and then served her medical internship at Boston University Medical Center. Her ophthalmology training began with a residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC. She has completed two fellowships, one in Glaucoma at the top-ranked Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, and another in Cataract and Refractive Surgery with Dr. Paul Koch who has consistently been ranked among the top cataract surgeons in the country. Dr. Myeni has presented original research at national conferences and has co-authored scientific papers for per-reviewed medical journals. The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery awarded her a Young Eye Surgeons Scholarship to assist her with her studies. She is also an active participant in Ophthalmic Women Leaders.