I should see an eye doctor for that? - Grandma had glaucoma



There is a lot of confusion about what optometrists really do. We are so stereotypically associated with asking people "Which is better, 1 or 2?" and correcting vision problems that people are sometimes surprised to hear that we do a lot more! To help with the confusion I decided to start this blog series "I should see an eye doctor for that?". Some might surprise you, some might not. In today's blog we're going to talk about your why if grandma had eye problems, like glaucoma, you need to have regular eye exams.

Alright, we don't really mean JUST if grandma had eye problems. Grandma shouldn't take all the blame. If someone in your family has an eye disease it's important for you to know what it is and who has it! Why should it matter to you, a healthy person with perfect vision, that someone in your family has an eye disease? Unsurprisingly since you share at least some of their genes their health history could be your health future. 

It's all in your genes.

Many eye diseases are genetic which means that if someone in your family had them, you could too. Much like if someone in your family has diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease you're at a higher risk of developing those same problems if someone in your family has glaucoma, macular degeneration or a host of other diseases you too are at a higher risk.



A couple important points. When I say someone in your family I mean 'blood relatives'. For example if your step mother has glaucoma or your sister-in-law has macular degeneration you don't share their risk because you don't share their genes. It's also important to point out that an increased risk does not mean certainty. Simply because your mother has diabetes or glaucoma does not mean you are doomed to have the same problems but it does mean you need to be careful and get your health, including your eye health, checked regularly.

So what has a genetic link? Almost everything unfortunately. The big three eye diseases, glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataract all have a genetic component. Diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke to name a few all directly impact the eye as well and often signs of those diseases will show up in the eye before they show up anywhere else!

This is one of the main reasons (though not the only one) why I recommend yearly eye exams. 80% of eye disease has no symptoms in its early stages and the only way to detect the problem and prevent it from getting worse is to have an eye doctor check the health of your eyes. Even if your vision is perfect there may be something going on that hasn't made itself obvious just yet.

As always, if you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

Primary Open Angle Glaucoma - the most common type of glaucoma

You may recall from our first blog on glaucoma that this eye problem isn't really just one disease but a whole bunch of different diseases lumped together that have a similar effect on your eyes and vision. That makes it relatively difficult to explain in a non specific way (though I tried in my introduction to glaucoma blog)! To really understand it we have to talk about each type of glaucoma separately. Let's start with one of the most common types of glaucoma: primary open angle glaucoma.

So who gets this type of glaucoma? The short answer is anyone can get open angle glaucoma. Typically your risk is higher if you're of African descent, if you have a high nearsighted prescription or if you have a family member who has glaucoma. Our risk goes up with age too. The thing to take away here is that these factors increase your risk of the disease but you can't say "Gosh, I don't have any of those, I'll never get glaucoma". One person may have a lower risk than another but we all have some risk of developing glaucoma.

Alright, here's a really quick anatomy lesson (with pictures) that is absolutely required to know what's going on in glaucoma. Basically fluid is produced by the ciliary body which you can see in the picture below. That fluid flows up through your pupil and then drains out through the little corner formed between the cornea (front clear part of your eye) and your iris.

This is how an eye without glaucoma produces and drains fluid (known as 'aqueous humour') in the eye.

If you have open angle glaucoma fluid is still produced by the ciliary body and flows up through your pupil but when it goes to drain it doesn't drain as quickly or as well and so the fluid stays in the eye longer. The more fluid that remains in the eye and the slower it drains the higher the pressure in the eye becomes and the greater the chance for damage to the optic nerve and your vision.

If someone develops open angle glaucoma the fluid produced can't drain as quickly and stays in the eye longer increasing the eye pressure which can lead to damage and permanent vision loss.

So why doesn't the fluid drain as well? Good question. If you figure it out let me know and we can alert the Nobel Prize committee together. There are some types of glaucoma where the drainage gets clogged but those are secondary glaucomas (meaning they are caused by another problem like debris or physical damage preventing good fluid drainage) as opposed to primary glaucoma (the fluid isn't draining but there aren't any other diseases happening to blame it on). There are some great theories out there including some that suggest that the very tiny blood vessels that this fluid drains into may collapse or partially collapse leading to a decreased ability to drain fluid away but so far we don't know for sure why primary glaucoma happens.

Regardless of what causes it, glaucoma is treatable. Usually all that is required is one drop of medication once a day to control the pressure. In order to treat the disease and prevent vision loss though you have to know you have glaucoma! The MOST important take away is that primary open angle glaucoma has absolutely no symptoms until it's end stage and vision loss is severe. The only way to diagnose glaucoma and prevent severe vision loss is to have regular eye exams with your optometrist.

If you want to read more feel free to check out the following links or as always you can contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

The CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) - Glaucoma

The Canadian Association of Optometrists - Glaucoma

The Alberta Association of Optometrists - Glaucoma

The American Optometric Association - Glaucoma

Measles and the eye

Recently the measles has been making the news a lot. It seems that hardly a day goes by without another report alerting us to an outbreak somewhere in Canada and it seems that Alberta has more than its fair share. While I was in school we touched only briefly on the measles since it was considered essentially eliminated in Canada. It can and does affect the eyes and since this resurgence I have refreshed myself on the dangers of the measles and what can happen to your vision.

All that said, I have seen measles in they eye before and it really took me by surprise.

While I worked in Malawi, Africa, a boy came in with a nasty looking pink eye and he was covered in spots. The doctor we were working with looked at us and said "What does this boy have." My colleague and I were stumped. "Measles of course!" he proclaimed as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. We had never seen measles before and were barely taught about it. It was considered an almost dead disease. As we have seen, that is not exactly the case.

A very, very close look at the measles virus.

The boy we treated in Africa recovered wonderfully and his eye cleared up. He was lucky. There are a lot of potential complications of measles. The most common is pink eye. Your eye could be red, gooey, and sore. It is also possible though to have retinal problems. The only symptom you might notice from those retinal issues would be that you were no longer seeing well or no longer seeing at all! If you have been diagnosed with measles or think you may have gotten the measles make sure you include an eye health check as you heal. This type of health exam is fully covered by Alberta Health Care and may just save your vision.

I would strongly encourage anyone who has not gotten the measles vaccine to consider having it done. I know some people may have a lot of questions or fears about vaccines and I'm happy to discuss any of those concerns with you either in office or through social media. The measles vaccine, while not 100% effective, will drastically reduce your risk of contracting the measles and suffering the potentially blinding eye complications.

If you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

Introduction to Glaucoma

You may have heard of glaucoma, or maybe not.  However, you should know that while this disease affects over 250,000 people in Canada - only half of them know it! This is important because glaucoma is the second most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 65. Glaucoma has no symptoms and the only way that glaucoma can be detected is through regular eye exams.

So I hear what you’re thinking. I’m not 65. Why do I care? Well, just because glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in people over 65 doesn’t mean it only strikes people in that age range! One in two hundred people under the age of 50 are also affected.

Glaucoma doesn’t have symptoms, at least not until the disease is end stage. So what does it do? Glaucoma causes a slow, symptomless, painless loss of your peripheral vision. Peripheral vision, or the sight you have all around what you’re looking at directly, helps you know your surroundings. It helps you detect the cars around you when you drive, it helps prevent you from hitting your head on objects above you. Basically it helps you maneuver in your world.

This is what tunnel vision looks like. Since the vision changes happen slowly most people with glaucoma have no idea they're losing vision.

So where does glaucoma come from? What causes it? Those are very complicated questions for later blogs! The short answer is we really don’t understand exactly where glaucoma comes from. We know that if someone in your family had glaucoma your risk goes up. Certain groups of people, those with certain types of vision prescriptions, age and gender all can play a role. One of the problems with really nailing down a definition is that there are many types of Glaucoma. There really isn’t any one thing in common across all the different types of glaucoma except that there is damage to the optic nerve causing loss of your peripheral vision.

The best prevention is seeing your Optometrist for regular eye exams.  Get checked, and ask them about your risk for glaucoma.  

If you have any questions about this or anything else feel free to contact us on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744. To learn more about glaucoma check out the links below.

The CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) - Glaucoma

The Canadian Association of Optometrists - Glaucoma

The Alberta Association of Optometrists -Glaucoma

The American Optometric Association - Glaucoma