January marks the observation of Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma affects 3 million people in the United States, making it the leading cause of permanent vision loss and blindness. There is currently no cure for the disease.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma refers to the loss of vision from a damaged optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain. In most cases, the eye pressure is high; in some cases, the eye pressure is not high. Either way, patients can go blind because the optic nerve is impaired. Glaucoma specialist, Dr. Felise Barte of Ophthalmic Specialists of Michigan explains: “Glaucoma is commonly known as the silent thief of sight. Glaucoma typically has no detectable symptoms. It is very worrisome – patients can be going blind and not know that they are losing vision.”
Although there are numerous types of glaucoma, Dr. Barte calls out two main types: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. While primary open-angle glaucoma develops slowly and has less noticeable symptoms, angle-closure glaucoma develops quickly and has very noticeable symptoms, requiring immediate medical attention. Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for around 90% of glaucoma cases.
Who is at risk?
Glaucoma primarily affects those over the age of 60 but can occur at any age. You may be at increased risk if you have a family history of glaucoma and/or medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Additionally, African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos have a significantly higher risk of developing glaucoma and may develop the disease at a younger age.
Can glaucoma be prevented?
Regularly receiving comprehensive dilated eye exams is the best way to protect your vision. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, it’s important to start treatment immediately upon diagnosis to prevent further damage to your vision. There are several types of treatments available including medicine, laser treatment and surgery.
If you believe you may be at risk of developing glaucoma, contact your eye doctor to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.