By Lauren Wanko
Ophthalmologist Dr. Ralph Del Negro is examining eyes for glaucoma.
“Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases where typically high eye pressure causes damage to the optic nerve or nerves that goes from your eye to your brain,” explained Del Negro.
High eye pressure typically occurs because, internally, fluid doesn’t drain out of the eye normally, says Del Negro of the Jersey Shore University Medical Center. The fluid builds up instead and that increases the pressure in the eye, which damages the optic nerve, that in turn could cause blindness. There are usually no early warning signs.
“Which is why it’s called the sneak thief of sight,” Del Negro said. “So, people can’t tell their eye pressure is high, unless it’s dramatic — which is not common. And they can’t tell they’re losing their vision initially because it’s subtle and its taken areas that are peripheral vision and oftentimes when people show up because their vision is poor from glaucoma it’s too late.”
Fair Haven resident John McGlone has been living with glaucoma for over 25 years.
“Be very aware of any slight change in your vision. Just don’t take it for granted that you could pass this off — glaucoma — it’s almost a sneaky disease,” said McGlone.
McGlone says he first realized something was wrong when he was driving at night. The streetlights and car headlights appeared to be surrounded by halos. A few years later, he lost vision in his right eye after a failed medical procedure. Eventually, he found Dr. Del Negro. Now his glaucoma is stable.
What is it like not having vision in his right eye?
“Not to be flippant about it, it’s inconvenient. What happens is, when you lose vision in one eye, you lose depth perception,” McGlone explained.
The National Eye Institute indicates more than 2.7 million people are living with glaucoma today. The organization expects that number to double by 2050. Prevent Blindness says in 2014, 83,913 New Jersey residents age 40 and older had the disease.
There are a variety of treatment options available for patients with glaucoma says the doctor, including eye drops, oral medications, laser treatments and surgery. The goal is to lower eye pressure in order to prevent vision loss.
There is no cure for glaucoma. Vision loss cannot be restored. Which is why prevention and early detection are the best weapons used against the sight stealer says the doctor.
“Every child should have an examination at least once growing up. If you have no eye problems you know after age 35, everyone should have an exam every two years — assuming there are no other problems. Then after 65, yearly,” said Del Negro.
McGlone goes for checkups every three months and uses eye drops daily. He’s determined not to lose all his vision.