In an effort to spread the word about the ''sneak thief of sight,'' January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading cause of avoidable blindness, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of total vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people around the world. Because the disease has no early symptoms, research shows that close to 50% of patients with glaucoma are unaware of their condition.
Glaucoma is the name for a group of ocular diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images to the brain. Although glaucoma can affect anyone, there are particular groups that are at higher risk such as African Americans above age 40, senior citizens, particularly Mexican Americans, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma.
Since vision loss due to optic nerve damage can not be restored, early diagnosis of glaucoma is essential. This is difficult however, because symptoms rarely manifest before the optic nerve is damaged, often being noticed when peripheral (side) vision loss becomes obvious.
Treatment for glaucoma depends on the disease characteristics and the extent of the nerve damage, and includes medication (usually prescription eye drops) or surgery. While experts are working hard to find a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore early diagnosis and treatment are the only ways to prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma is a lifelong disease, it is preferable to find an eye doctor experienced in this condition.
The NIH's National Eye Institute recently found that while glaucoma was known to ninety percent of the people they surveyed, only eight percent knew that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only a qualified optometrist can detect the early effects of glaucoma, through a comprehensive glaucoma screening. A yearly eye exam is your best defense against this potentially devastating disease. Don’t delay in getting your annual comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.