At least two million Americans have glaucoma, the second leading cause of preventable vision loss after diabetes. The disease – a result of extra pressure on the optic nerve from improperly draining eye fluid – isn’t curable, but it’s treatable, often with pressure-reducing eye drops.
In other words, you don’t have to go blind if you get glaucoma. But some people do.
“There’s no excuse for vision loss from glaucoma other than personal neglect,” insists Richard Bensinger, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists in Seattle. “Either you never got your eyes checked or your physician didn’t nag you hard enough to follow the medical regimen.”
Why should you have to be nagged into not going blind? According to Dr. Bensinger, it’s not just the mild inconvenience of an eye drop routine but also the lack of immediate payoff. “We don’t have to encourage people with arthritis because they’re hurting, and when they take their medicine, the pain goes away,” he says. “But with glaucoma the results seem like nothing. You don’t see any better or feel any better after you take the drops.”
There’s a similar reluctance about eye checkups, even though if you catch glaucoma in the bud via an eye-pressure test, you keep most of your sight. “The problem is that garden-variety glaucoma doesn’t have any symptoms,” Dr. Bensinger says.
So don’t wait till it’s too late. Dr. Bensinger recommends that you get your eyes examined every five years from age 25 to 50, and every two years after that. And you should have your eyes checked more often if there is a history of glaucoma in your family.
And please, take your medicine.