January is Glaucoma Awareness Month!
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that cause damage to the optic nerve and results in partial loss of vision or even complete blindness. 2.2 million Americans are estimated to have glaucoma, but it is estimated that only half know that they have it1. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness globally, after cataracts. Unlike cataracts, blindness caused by glaucoma is irreversible. Blindness caused by glaucoma is permanent but it is also preventable. For this reason it is important to educate yourself about this disease and get regular eye exams to detect it.
Are you at risk?
Everyone is at risk for developing glaucoma; some are even born with it. People most at risk for glaucoma include those over the age of 60, diabetics, African Americans, Hispanics, and those with nearsightedness or a family history of glaucoma. Use of steroids such as cortisone or prednisone can also increase your risk of getting glaucoma.
How does the disease develop?
Glaucoma occurs when the drainage system in your eye becomes inefficient, the fluid inside the eye increases and leads to a build-up of pressure within the eye. This increased pressure causes damage to the optic nerve so it can no longer send visual signals from the eye to the brain. The exact cause of glaucoma is unknown, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing glaucoma. People over 60 (40 for African Americans) are at increased risk. Family history, medical conditions and injuries to the eye are also factors.
What are the symptoms?
There are no early symptoms; usually the first symptom is losing peripheral vision, but this does not occur until the disease has progressed. If the disease is not treated, more than just peripheral vision will be lost until total blindness occurs. Occasionally an acute build-up of pressure can occur, most often in a type of glaucoma called “angle closure glaucoma” or “acute glaucoma,” causing sudden eye pain, blurred vision, halos around lights, and headaches.
What is the treatment for glaucoma?
There are three forms of treatment for glaucoma: eye drops, laser surgery, and microsurgery. Eye drops will either help reduce the amount of fluid the eye makes or help the eye to drain the fluid better. Laser surgery can also reduce the amount of fluid, or it can create a hole in the iris or fluid channel to allow better fluid drainage. Microsurgery creates a new channel for the fluid to drain out of.
There is no cure for glaucoma. Treatment must be continued for the life of the patient. Because the disease can change silently, it is extremely important to comply with medications and recommended treatments, including regular eye exams.
What can I do to detect this disease?
Have regular eye exams! Your eye doctor will perform one or more tests to determine if you have glaucoma. Because it usually progresses with no symptoms, it is important to be tested regularly, especially if you are at higher risk for glaucoma.
1. Glaucoma Research Foundation: http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/glaucoma-facts-and-stats.php