Steamboat Springs It is estimated that 1 to 2 percent of people older than age 40 have a condition called chronic glaucoma.
As many as one-fourth of the people who have glaucoma are unaware of their plight. That is because glaucoma, "the sneak thief of sight," strikes without obvious symptoms.
"When you think you have symptoms of glaucoma, it's already too late," warns ophthalmologist Mark Helm of Helm Eye Center in Steamboat Springs.
Chronic glaucoma sufferers may complain of the need to frequently change eyeglasses, the inability to adjust their eyes in the dark, a gradual loss of peripheral vision, blurred or foggy vision or mild headaches.
Glaucoma is a condition of increased fluid pressure inside the eye. The increased pressure occurs when the fluid within the eye, which is produced continuously, does not drain properly. The pressure pushes on the retina at the back of the eye, reducing the blood supply to the nerves of the retina and causing them to die.
As the optic nerve deteriorates, blind spots and vision changes develop.
Peripheral vision (side vision) is affected first, followed by front or central vision.
"With prompt diagnosis, treatment can be very effective in slowing the progression of glaucoma," Helm said. However, when left untreated, glaucoma can result in severe and permanent vision loss, which can progress to blindness.
The only way to diagnose glaucoma early enough for effective treatment is through routine eye examinations. People with any or several of the risk factors for chronic glaucoma should seek out the highest level of expertise for a yearly glaucoma screening, Helm said.
In most cases, there is no prevention for the development of glaucoma. But if the condition is detected early, further vision loss and blindness may be prevented with treatment by medication, surgery or a combination of both.
Everyone should be concerned about glaucoma and its effects.
You can make an important investment in your eyesight and your future by scheduling a regular eye exam. Taking action might protect you from the sneak thief of sight.
Bonnie Boylan is public relations coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.