Photo By: Courtesy of National Eye Institute
Pressure from fluid buildup in the eye causes nerve damage in one common glaucoma.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, an important time to spread the word about the sight-stealing disease.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so those with glaucoma may not notice anything until significant vision is lost.
Currently, 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 suffer from glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects the number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase. WHO estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation calls glaucoma “the sneak thief of sight,” because there are no symptoms, and once vision is lost, it’s permanent. A person can lose as much as 40 percent of his or her vision without noticing.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. Those at higher risk include people of African, Asian and Hispanic descent. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians. And among Hispanics in older age groups, the risk of glaucoma is nearly as high as that for African-Americans.
Other high-risk groups include people older than 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics and those who are severely nearsighted.
Combined with the aging population, experts predict a looming epidemic of blindness if they don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.
Damage to the optic nerve causes vision loss. The nerve acts like an electric cable with more than a million wires and is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.
There is no cure for glaucoma – yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends on the type of glaucoma, among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.
There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. They are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, it is called normal tension glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.
The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to schedule a comprehensive eye examination. Then, if you are diagnosed with glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.
Following are ways to raise awareness about glaucoma.
• Talk to friends and family about glaucoma, especially seniors. If you have glaucoma, don’t keep it a secret – let family members know.
• Refer people to the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s resources at www.glaucoma.org.
• Request a free educational booklet at www.glaucoma.org/treatment/literature.php.
For regular updates on glaucoma research, treatments, news and information, visit www.glaucoma.org.