Glaucoma Awareness Month
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, an important time to spread the word about this sight-stealing disease. Currently, more than 3 million people in the United States have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58 percent increase.
Typically, There Are No Early Warning Signs
What makes glaucoma so frightening is that it often becomes a sudden problem. Most people don’t notice any of the warning signs or symptoms; however, with regular eye exams we can check the pressure of your eye and monitor your risk.
Who’s Most At Risk For Glaucoma?
Though certain factors put you at higher risk, it’s important for everyone to understand the risk factors. For example, glaucoma usually affects people in their middle age—and the elderly—but it can, and does, affect people all age groups.
- African Americans are at a much higher risk and that risk spikes as early as age 40.
- You’re at a higher risk over age 60 and even more so over age 80.
- Some medical conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease may increase risk.
- If you have a family history of glaucoma, you are a much higher risk.
Diagnosing Glaucoma Early Can Help Preserve Sight
There’s no cure for glaucoma; however, when caught early, we can take steps to slow or halt vision loss. Often treatments as simple as specialized eye drops that reduce the pressure building up inside of your eye can make a difference.
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders leading to progressive damage of the optic nerve and is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in vision loss.
In most cases, glaucoma is associated with higher-than-normal pressure inside the eye (ocular hypertension). If untreated or uncontrolled, glaucoma first causes peripheral vision loss and eventually can lead to blindness. Globally, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness (behind cataracts), according to the World Health Organization.
Types and Causes of Glaucoma
There are many types of glaucoma and many theories about the causes of glaucoma, but the exact cause is unknown. The two main types are open-angle and acute angle-closure. Distinguishing both types is a marked increase of intraocular pressure (pressure inside the eye).
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), open-angle glaucoma affects an estimated 2.2 million people in the United States, with numbers expecting to increase to 3.3 million by 2020 as the U.S. population ages.
What Risk Factors Affect Glaucoma?
Because chronic forms of glaucoma can destroy vision before any signs or symptoms are apparent, be aware of the following risk factors:
Elevated Internal Eye Pressure. If your internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure) is higher than normal, you are at increased risk of developing glaucoma — though not everyone with elevated intraocular pressure develops the disease.
Age. People over age 60 are at increased risk for the disease. Elderly adults over age 80 have three to ten times the risk of developing glaucoma as individuals in their 40s. For African Americans, however, the increase in risk begins after age 40.
Race/Ethnicity. African Americans are significantly more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasians and are much more likely to suffer permanent vision loss as a result. People of Asian descent have an increased risk of developing acute angle-closure glaucoma.
Family History. Having a family history of glaucoma increases your risk of developing glaucoma.
Medical Conditions. Some studies indicate that diabetes may increase your risk of developing glaucoma, as do high blood pressure and heart disease.
Eye Injury. Severe trauma to the eye can result in immediate increased eye pressure and future increases in pressure due to internal damage. Injury can also dislocate the lens, closing the drainage angle and increasing pressure.
Other Eye-related Risk Factors. Eye anatomy (namely corneal thickness and optic nerve appearance) indicate risk for development of glaucoma. Conditions such as retinal detachment, eye tumors, and eye inflammations may also induce glaucoma. Some studies suggest that high amounts of nearsightedness may also be a risk factor for the development of glaucoma.
Corticosteroid Use. Using corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time appears to put some people at risk of getting secondary glaucoma.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from the increased pressure, so it is important to see your eye doctor regularly to diagnose and treat glaucoma before long-term visual loss occurs.
Glaucoma Treatment Options
While there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve eyesight. Nerve damage and vision loss from glaucoma cannot usually be reversed; however, glaucoma can generally be controlled.
The treatment of glaucoma is aimed at reducing intraocular pressure. The most common first-line treatment of glaucoma is usually prescription eye drops. In some cases, systemic medications, laser treatment and/or another surgery may be required.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Glaucoma?
When it comes to glaucoma, risk reduction is a simple matter of damage control. Aside from following healthy lifestyle recommendations, we have little control over whether we develop glaucoma.
If you are over the age of 40 and if you have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently.