CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - January isn’t just the start of the New Year, it’s also a reminder to always get your vision checked. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Did you know more than three million people currently have Glaucoma? Even more startling, many don’t even know they have it without getting annual eye exams.
Glaucoma is known as the "sneak thief of sight" because there are no symptoms and once vision is lost -- it's permanent. And, you can lose as much as 40 percent of your vision without even noticing. It’s is caused by uncontrolled pressure inside the eye that silently steals your vision without you knowing it.
Yes, your eyes have pressure - just like your blood does. And it needs to be monitored annually just like your blood pressure. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness – but it’s also the most preventable cause of vision loss. Dr. Andrew Hahn, an optometrist and owner of Hahn Eye Center in Charlotte has been practicing for 40 years.
“This is something that you're in the path of and you can get out of the way,” he pointed out. “Other problems of blindness you can't control - but this you can. The hardest part is making the diagnosis and finding the people who are at risk”
The reason? Many people don’t know the risk factors – there are five – and don’t commit to a yearly eye exam.
“It's a five-fold risk factors,” said Dr. Hahn. “One would be race, one would be age, one would be family history - it's a big one so if it's in your family then you need to be going. You need to be checked annually. Also, the appearance of the eye and also the pressures of your eye.”
So, anyone over the age of 40; if you’re Black or Latino or have a family history, especially your parents or siblings needs to be vigilant.
It’s particularly concerning for people of color, said Dr. Hahn. “I just think it's the genetic predisposition to it. And, we know statistically - they're five times more likely to get it.”
As far as the eye appearance: often times doctors can tell by what your eyes look like - especially the back and inside of the eye. For instance, when you get those drops that dilate your eyes during your appointment - that helps them get a better look. Back to that eye pressure – it’s big indicator that you could be at greater risk of developing Glaucoma.
“The inside of the eye has blood vessels which feed the eye,” said Dr. Hahn. “If the blood vessels inside the eye is greater than the profusion pressure, then the blood won't flow into the eye and that's when you get the resulting cell death and ultimate blindness. So basically we have normal blood pressure which pushes the blood throughout the body. When it comes to the eye, if the amount of blood flowing through the capillaries is lower than the intraocular pressure, it won't flow in.”
It's measured using a tonometer. Basically that machine that blows a puff of air into your eye. Levels of 14 to 18 mm of mercury is normal. Any higher- and you’re at a higher risk.
Bottom line: while Glaucoma is a threat to our vision and should be taken seriously; after all there's no cure - you can just manage it. It's really about preserving your sight. Regular eye exams can catch help you get diagnosed early on.
And, for most people nightly eye drops will preserve your vision for the rest of your life.