In order to increase awareness about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' this month has been named National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading source of preventable blindness, 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 the disease is initially asymptomatic, research shows that close to 50% of patients with glaucoma are unaware of their condition.
Glaucoma is actually a category of eye diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying images to be processed in the brain. Although glaucoma can affect people of all ages, those at higher risk include African Americans above 40 years of age, anyone over age 60, in particular of Mexican ancestry, and individuals with a family history of the disease.
Because blindness of this kind is irreversible, early diagnosis of glaucoma is vital. This is difficult however, because symptoms rarely manifest before the optic nerve is damaged, often becoming apparent when peripheral (side) vision loss is perceptible.
Treatment for glaucoma is determined based on the disease characteristics and the amount of vision loss, and may include pressure-reducing eye surgery or medications, often eye drops. Although experts are researching a cure, one does not currently exist and therefore early diagnosis and treatment are the only ways to preserve vision. Since glaucoma develops gradually and requires constant attention, it is preferable to find an eye care professional experienced in this condition.
According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while ninety percent of people had heard of glaucoma, a mere eight percent knew that it has no early warning signs. Only an experienced optometrist can identify the early signs of glaucoma, through a comprehensive eye exam. A yearly glaucoma screening is your best defense against this often over-looked disease. Don’t delay in getting your annual comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.