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Fighting Glaucoma May Be Easier Than You Think

Early detection is the key to saving your vision

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Q: What can I do to protect my vision?
A: Get an eye exam. "The biggest misconception is that there is no real treatment for it, that it just comes with aging," says Higginbotham. "Glaucoma — at least blindness related to glaucoma — can be prevented with early detection." While there is no way to prevent glaucoma or reverse vision loss caused by the disease, regular eye exams are critical to diagnosing and controlling the condition.

Q: What's the exam like?
A: During the exam, your doctor will place drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, your pupils. This will allow him or her to look inside your eye for signs of damage to the optic nerve. In addition, your doctor will gauge the fluid pressure inside your eyes with an instrument called a tonometer, which either rests against your eye's (numbed) surface or sends a puff of air onto your cornea. The puff can be startling, and you may feel a slight pressure on your eye, but it doesn't hurt. Also part of the exam: Tests that measure your peripheral vision and visual acuity at various distances.

Q: Can I get help paying for the exam?
A: Medicare will cover an annual dilated eye exam for some people at higher risk for glaucoma, including African Americans 50 and older, Hispanics 65 and older, people with diabetes and those with a family history of glaucoma. (Learn more about free eye screenings.)

Q: If it turns out I have it, what are my treatment options?
A: Patients may be given medication, have surgery or get a combination of both. Laser and conventional surgical procedures help fluid drain out of the eye by widening the eye's drainage system or creating a new opening through which fluid can flow. Medication, usually in the form of eye drops, reduces fluid production or increases the exit of fluid from the eye. Ask your doctor questions if any of the information you receive about treatments is unclear, and be sure to stick to your regimen, Higginbotham says. Careful management of the condition can save your vision.

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