In an effort to increase awareness about the ''sneak thief of sight,'' January has been named National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable permanent vision loss, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of complete vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people around the world. Because glaucoma is initially asymptomatic, research shows that nearly 50% of patients with glaucoma are not aware of their condition.
Glaucoma is the name for a category of ocular diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, the channel that carries images to be processed in the brain. Although anyone can develop glaucoma, those at higher risk include African Americans above 40 years of age, senior citizens, particularly of Mexican descent, and those with a family history of the disease.
Since blindness due to optic nerve damage is irreversible, sight can only be preserved through early diagnosis. This is difficult however, because symptoms rarely manifest before the optic nerve is damaged, often being noticed when peripheral (side) vision is already gone.
There is no treatment for glaucoma, however current methods of treatment, including medication or surgery, can slow the progression of the disease and prevent further vision impairment. The preferred treatment is dependent upon a few factors, which consider the type of glaucoma and the extent of vision loss.
The NIH's National Eye Institute recently found that while ninety percent of people had heard of glaucoma, only eight percent knew that it has no early warning signs. Only a qualified optometrist can detect the early signs of glaucoma, through a thorough eye exam. A yearly eye exam is the most effective way to prevent damage from this silent disease. Don’t delay in scheduling your annual glaucoma screening before it’s too late.