Q. Is there any way to prevent glaucoma?
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 and other tests -- to check for any changes in your eye or in your vision. With early detection, glaucoma can often be controlled with medications, such as eye drops. If your glaucoma doesn't respond to medication, your doctor may also recommend surgery. Remember, because glaucoma is painless, about half of people who have it don't know they have it. 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.
Q. If I have glaucoma, will I become blind?
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 diabetes
- Being nearsighted
- 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, as well as report all of your medical conditions to your eye doctor.
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.
Q. Can marijuana really treat glaucoma, and is it legal?
Studies performed in the 1970s reported that smoking marijuana could lower eye pressure. Other studies have been inconclusive. Newer reviews by the National Eye Institute and the Institute of Medicine show that there is no scientific evidence that marijuana is more effective than the drugs currently available.
Q. If I have glaucoma, can I still drive?
Most people with glaucoma can still drive -- as long as they pass the Department of Motor Vehicles' vision test. Simply put, your ability to drive will depend on how much vision has been lost. Some people with advanced glaucoma can still get their license renewed but with restrictions. Ask your doctor to discuss your condition with you to determine if driving will be a concern for you.
Q. Can I still wear contact lenses if I have glaucoma?
Whether or not you can wear contact lenses depends on which glaucoma treatment your doctor selects for you. You should be able to continue wearing them if you use eye drops. However, some drugs may need to be taken when lenses are not in your eyes. Also, some of the older medications can affect your prescription, so you may need to get new contacts at some point.
If your doctor decides that you need surgery, your ability to wear contacts may be affected. Be sure to discuss your contacts with your doctor so together the two of you can manage your vision concerns and your medication concerns.
Q. What can I do to help my parent with glaucoma?
Being diagnosed with glaucoma is scary. Many older people are dealing with several problems that come with age. They often worry that they will become a burden to the family if they lose their vision. So, first, reassure your parent that many people keep their vision with proper medication and care.
Next, help your loved one establish a routine so eye drops are applied correctly on schedule. Some eye drops must be applied several times a day. This can be especially difficult for people with arthritis, and, frankly, not an easy task for anyone to remember! You could offer to help, perhaps by swinging by the house or by calling with a reminder. If that's not possible, talk with your parent's doctor to make sure a plan is in place. Compliance with drop regimens is extremely important in glaucoma to prevent permanent vision loss.
If your parent faces surgery, do what you can to help him or her prepare, then arrange transportation to follow-up visits to the doctor.
There are many services and products available to help someone with impaired vision continue to write checks, organize their kitchen, tell time, and even play cards. Contact the Glaucoma Foundation to learn about them.
Remember, the best help you can offer is your emotional support.