There is nothing that will prevent glaucoma, but you can slow down its development with early treatment. Therefore, it is very important that you have regular eye exams. Your doctor will perform a series of painless tests -- eye pressure measurements, dilated eye exams, and sometimes visual field testing -- to check for any changes in your eye or in your vision. With early detection, glaucoma can often be controlled with medications, either eye drops or pills. If your glaucoma doesn't respond to medication, your doctor may also recommend surgery. Remember, about half of people with glaucoma don't know they have it, and doctors cannot reverse damage from glaucoma. Vision lost is irreversible, you can't get your vision back once it is lost. Your best protection is to get regular eye exams, every couple of years if you are over 40 or on a schedule recommended by your doctor.
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The chances are good that you will not go blind if you take your medication correctly and regularly and follow up with your doctor. Treatment significantly slows the damage that occurs to the optic nerve because of the high pressure in the eye. In fact, if you take your eye drops on schedule each day, you'll probably keep your eyesight until the day you die of old age!
Q. If my parent has glaucoma, will I get it?
Not necessarily, but it does increase your risk. Other factors that may increase your risk are:
Being over age 50
Being over age 40 and African-American
Having a family history of glaucoma
Having a history of serious eye injury
Taking steroid medications
Having high blood pressure
People with these risk factors should have their eyes examined on a regular basis to look for the disease.
Q. Are there effective treatments for glaucoma?
Yes. There are many different types of medications (in eye drops or pills) that are used to treat glaucoma. Typically, the doctor will start you on an eye drop formula. The medications work two ways: Some decrease how much fluid is produced in the eye; others help the fluid flow out better. Many people can preserve their vision if they take their medications as scheduled and visit their doctor regularly. Note: Medications for glaucoma -- even eye drops -- can affect the entire body, so you should alert all of your doctors that you are taking them.
In some people, however, drugs alone do not control the eye pressure, and surgery is needed. One type of surgery called laser trabeculoplasty uses a laser to improve the flow of fluids out of the eye. This can be done in your doctor's office. There are also several conventional surgeries -- the most common is called trabeculectomy -- in which your doctor creates a new drainage path in the eye under the eyelid. This surgery must be done in an operating room. After both of these procedures, people may still have to take eye drops to further lower the eye pressure.