It's a disease that doesn't discriminate by age or race and comes with no symptoms. That's why it's estimated that only half of the nearly three million Americans with glaucoma know they have it. YNN's Sarah Blazonis tells us how you can stop it in its tracks.
EAST SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The diagnosis came nearly ten years ago, but Mark Lesselroth says he still remembers the shock he felt when his doctor told him he had glaucoma.
"You know, everything races through your head, because the thought of losing one's sight is terrifying," said Lesselroth, now president of the CNY chapter of the Glaucoma Foundation.
Lesselroth works to get the word out about the disease and screenings like this one offered by Upstate Medical University's HealthLink program. Doctors say glaucoma is characterized by pressure in the eye caused by a back up of fluid that can damage the optic nerve.
"The problem is that it sneaks up on you because it's peripheral vision usually, which we can't really detect ourselves," said ophthalmologist Tina Taggart.
Doctors say a screening is similar to a typical eye exam. First, patients will get their vision checked. Then screeners tap this device to your eye to measure pressure. A brief screening like this could take about five minutes, while a visit to your doctor will likely take a little bit longer, but medical officials say it's time well spent.
"Now we try to detect glaucoma earlier so that it can be prevented. We can't really erase what's occurred, but we can stop the progression," said Taggart.
Risk factors are higher for those with a family history, African Americans and people age 50 and older, but Lesselroth, who was diagnosed at 37, says he's an example of why everyone should be screened regularly.
"I would've been blind," said Lesselroth. "It's one of those things where you can literally go to bed fine one night and wake up the next morning and the world has gone dark on you. So I consider myself extremely fortunate."
For those diagnosed early, doctors say a few eye drops are all it takes to keep blindness at bay and give patients a greater appreciation for everyday sights.
For more information on glaucoma, visit, www.glaucomafoundation.org.
To learn about upcoming seminars from HealthLink, visit www.upstate.edu.