A trip to your optometrist may not only be sight-saving but potentially lifesaving. Optometrists evaluate the health of your eyes. Most people think of their optometrists as specialists in vision and for prescribing eyeglasses. Optometrists also detect chronic and systemic diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Most people have heard of glaucoma, but many people don’t know how quickly it can take your eyesight. Glaucoma is a disease that causes a gradual degeneration of cells that make up the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. As the nerve cells die, vision is slowly lost, usually beginning in the periphery. Glaucoma affects more than three million Americans, however over half of them don’t know they have it, according to Prevent Blindness America.
Glaucoma begins by affecting your side vision. Glaucoma has no symptoms and therefore people are not aware they have it until it has already caused damage. It is known as the sneak thief of sight. It is unusual for someone to be aware of these changes because they occur gradually. Once the damage due to glaucoma occurs, it cannot be repaired and is usually not reversible.
Some factors such as age, race and family history increase the risk of developing glaucoma. Glaucoma becomes more common as we get older. African Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma. Family history of a direct blood relative with glaucoma increases the likelihood of the disease, but it is important to realize that glaucoma can occur even if there is no family history.
Damage due to glaucoma can be prevented by diagnosing and treating it early. Since there are no symptoms of glaucoma, it is important to have an eye examination every year. Individuals covered by Medicare can receive dilated eye examinations as a benefit of Medicare coverage. Especially if you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, it is all the more important for you to have a full eye examination.