The American Academy of Ophthalmology has designated January as Glaucoma Awareness Month to raise awareness for the chronic eye condition commonly known as “the sneak thief of sight.” The leading cause of preventable blindness, Glaucoma is estimated to affect nearly three million people over the age of 40 in the United States; approximately 120,000 Americans are totally blind as a direct result of the disease. Current research has found no cure for Glaucoma, but if detected and treated early, symptoms can be improved or stabilized. For this reason, regular eye exams are vital in early detection of Glaucoma.
Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases caused by damage to the optic nerve, causing vision loss, and if left untreated, blindness. The role of the optic nerve is to carry images to the brain. The optic nerve is damaged when there is high eye pressure, called intraocular pressure. Vision loss begins in the peripheries, then spreads towards the center of your field of vision. In the most common form of Glaucoma, there are virtually no symptoms, and as much as 40 percent of your vision can be lost before it becomes noticeable.
Open Angle Glaucoma is the most common form, in which pressure builds up slowly behind the eye, gradually damaging the optic nerve. This causes slow, almost imperceptible vision loss, but if left untreated, can lead to total blindness. Alternatively, Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma is caused by a sudden hindrance to the normal movement of the fluid between the eye lens and the iris. This may cause severe headaches, pain and blurred vision. Immediate treatment is required, otherwise there’s a possibility of complete loss of sight. Vision loss from Glaucoma is permanent, but medication or surgery can slow down or prevent further vision damage.
Glaucoma is more common in people of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent, as well as individuals over the age of 40. Siblings of people with Glaucoma have also been shown to have a significantly increased risk. Early detection is vital; the best preventative measure against Glaucoma is to have regular comprehensive eye exams. According to the World Health Organization, Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. It is important to spread the word about the prominence of this disease, and remind people of the importance of getting regular eye exams to maintain overall eye health.