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Glaucoma awareness, blindness prevention promoted

by Carolyn Cavanaugh, R.N.
Patient Educator
MUSC Storm Eye Institute

Often called the “sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma at first exhibits no symptoms, change in vision or pain.
While no known cure for glaucoma exists, it can be treated. Early detection and treatment of glaucoma is the key to saving sight.
To raise awareness of glaucoma, the Storm Eye Institute is offering a free glaucoma screening on Jan. 9, by appointment only. To make an appointment, call MUSC Health Connection at 792-1414.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. Approximately 2.3 million people in the United States have glaucoma, and about half of these people do not know they have the disease. When vision is lost from glaucoma, the peripheral or side vision is lost first. Since the more central vision remains stable, it may go unnoticed until a significant amount of sight is lost.
Glaucoma encompasses several types of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve carries all the messages to the brain of what our eye is seeing.
We need the fluid in the anterior chamber to nourish the front structures of the eye, the area inside the front part of the eye between the cornea, which is the curved-shaped tissue at the front of the eye; the iris, or colored part of our eye; and the lens. This fluid is constantly being made, flowing through the front structures of the eye, draining through meshed network of tissue, and picked up by the blood vessels. In the most common type of glaucoma, this fluid does not drain as well as it should. The eyeball is a closed unit, and therefore fluid pressure builds up and can slowly damage the optic nerve. Vision lost from permanent damage to the optic nerve cannot be restored, and the result can be severe vision loss or blindness.
Treatments for glaucoma, in most instances, can stop or slow down the damage and blinding process. Medications, usually in the form of eye drops, are the least invasive therapy and can usually control eye pressure. Sometimes, laser surgery or a combination of treatments may become necessary.
The cause of glaucoma is unknown and can affect people of all ages. Babies can actually be born with glaucoma, but the highest incidence of glaucoma occurs in a high-risk group determined by race, age, and family genetics. This notably affects African-Americans 40 years and older; Latin or Hispanic populations 60 years and older; and those with a family history of glaucoma.
If you are in a high-risk group, you should have a complete eye exam at least every two years, or as directed by physician or eye doctor.
Other types of glaucoma include low or normal tension glaucoma, acute angle closure glaucoma, and congenital glaucoma. Secondary types of glaucoma can be due to systemic diseases, eye injuries or uveitis (inflammation of the eye’s center).
Glaucoma is diagnosed by a number of factors, which include a dilated eye exam, measuring the intraocular pressure, corneal thickness, visual field tests, and an exam in which the eye doctor visualizes the degree to which the optic nerve cups.
Those with glaucoma must use eye drops as directed. Since medications are only effective for a certain time period, it is important not to miss using the eye drops at the time prescribed by your doctor to keep your eye pressure stable. If you take more than one type of eye drop at the same time of day, wait five to 10 minutes between each drop. Keeping your blood pressure under control also is important.
For more information about glaucoma, or a glaucoma brochure, call 792-4735.

Friday, Jan. 9, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.