World Glaucoma Week is March 8-14, 2020. This important global initiative raises awareness about glaucoma, an eye disease that affects millions of people around the globe. Glaucoma is often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight” because it presents no warning signs and can strike painlessly with no other symptoms. In fact, in Australia alone, over 300,000 people have glaucoma, yet 50% of them don’t even know it yet!
People over age 50 are at increased risk for glaucoma as well as another common eye disease – cataracts. Together, glaucoma and cataracts are the two leading causes of blindness around the world. Fortunately, though, both are treatable, especially when detected early. One common question many people ask is, “Can I get cataracts and glaucoma at the same time?” The answer is, “yes.” It is possible and many seniors do experience both conditions simultaneously. To better understand glaucoma and cataracts, let’s look at what they are and how they are diagnosed and treated.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve. It is linked to a buildup of fluid pressure inside the eye known as intraocular pressure. Because the optic nerve is the vehicle that transmits images to the brain, when it becomes damaged, it can cause varying degrees of vision loss, including patchy or blurry vision, and in some cases loss of central vision. Although glaucoma can affect anyone at any age, it mainly affects people after they reach age 50 and beyond.
What is a cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. A cataract forms when proteins in the eye’s lens begin to break down and clump together, forming cloudy areas that can result in dull and blurry vision. Other symptoms can also occur including seeing halos around light, making night driving difficult. Like glaucoma, while cataracts can occur at any age, they are most common in people over age 50.
Can glaucoma and cataracts occur simultaneously?
Because both glaucoma and cataracts can be a natural part of the aging process, they can (and do) quite naturally coexist. Many people over age 60 do experience both conditions. It’s important to know that the two diseases are not otherwise related, meaning one does not cause the other. It’s an understandable concern, especially when one disease follows closely after the other, but the shared factor is that they both commonly occur with age.
How are glaucoma and cataracts diagnosed?
Both glaucoma and cataracts can be diagnosed during a routine eye exam. An eye doctor will typically perform several tests including a visual acuity test to see if your vision shows signs of impairment. A slit-lamp examination is also common. A slit-lamp microscope allows a doctor to see the structures at the front of the eye and inside the eye under magnification, making it easier to detect any abnormalities. Other common eye exam procedures include examination of the retina, for which a doctor may use dilating eye drops to widen the pupil and more easily see the back of the eye, tonometry, which measures the inner pressure of the eye, and an examination of the optic nerve. Using routine tests like these, an eye doctor can typically diagnose glaucoma and cataracts as part of a regular eye exam.
How are glaucoma and cataracts treated?
Both glaucoma and cataracts are treatable conditions, but early detection is important.
Glaucoma treatments range from medications that reduce pressure to surgery that helps the eye to drain. In general, glaucoma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. For cataracts, there is currently only one way to permanently correct vision and that is to undergo cataract surgery. This involves removing the cataract (and natural lens of the eye) and replacing it with an artificial lens known as an intraocular lens or IOL.
When both conditions occur at the same time, treatment is still possible, but can be more complicated. For more information on cataract surgery for patients who also have glaucoma, read here.)
Most eye care experts recommend a comprehensive eye exam every year, especially after age 40. Even for those who have never previously needed vision correction and consider their eyes to be healthy, an eye exam is still important, especially since early detection is a key factor in treating common eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts.
If you have cataracts, discuss with your doctor about the best lens replacement option for you. Learn more about the IC-8 lens for cataract surgery in your area. It offers many advantages over traditional monofocal and multifocal IOLs. It is designed to provide a natural range of vision from near to far, including mid-range vision needed to read a computer screen.
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