Irwin Army Community Hospital has state-of-the-art equipment and eye specialists ready to help patients who have glaucoma.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, which aims to educate people on the importance of maintaining healthy eyes.
Glaucoma is most commonly found in adults 40 years of age and older, when the optic nerves in their eyes become damaged.
Although glaucoma cannot be cured, early detection with a comprehensive eye exam and prompt treatment can help preserve vision, said Dr. Emmanuel Kai-Lewis, IACH ophthalmologist.
"You can lose your eyesight from this disease," he said. "Most people don't notice that something is wrong before it is too late, and that's a shame because this disease is preventable."
Glaucoma is more common in the retiree population, but also can occur in younger adults.
Open-angle glaucoma is more common and is diagnosed by the presence of larger nerves and thinner corneas, as well as higher-pressure levels in the eye.
"The pressure behind the eye builds up so much that the nerves cannot support it, and the nerves start to break down and become damaged," Kai-Lewis said.
When the nerves are damaged, patients may experience tunnel vision. Visual field tests can check the progression of the damage.
"If your pressure is between 12 and 22, then you are in the normal range, but anything above that can be a warning sign of glaucoma," he said.
Family history can increase a person's chance of contracting glaucoma.
"The problem with glaucoma is that it is a very slow-growing disease, and most people don't notice something is wrong with their eye until the disease is in full swing," Kai-Lewis said.
To treat the disease, drops can be used to alleviate the pressure behind the eye. There also is a laser treatment known as a selective laser.
"We have the laser here at IACH, and it goes into the drainage system of the eye to help drain the eye better and does not destroy the tissue," he said.
Most patients who opt to receive the laser treatment are treated once and then receive annual checkups to ensure the nerves in their eyes are still responding to the treatment.
Surgery is the last option after all other therapy has been exhausted, he said.
"If we can diagnose it early, then we can start treatment and may be able to keep the patient comfortable with just the eye drops," he said.
If someone is concerned about glaucoma because of Family history, IACH can check the nerve health in the patient's eye.
People who are diabetic also are at a higher risk for developing glaucoma, he said.
"Glaucoma really sneaks up on you, and most people won't be able to tell they have it until it's too late," he said, adding medication prescribed to patients by their doctors should be taken as directed.
To make an appointment for an eye exam, call 785-239-DOCS (3627).