“Speed the cure. Spread the word,” says the Glaucoma Research Foundation. The first month of the New Year is a good time to learn about and spread awareness of this sight-stealing disease. Glaucoma may affect as many as 4.2 million Americans by 2030, a 58 percent increase, says the National Eye Institute.
Glaucoma is known as “the sneak thief of sight” because there may be no symptoms and as much as 40 percent of vision can be slowly lost without a person noticing. And once vision is lost, it’s permanent.
The good news is that glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. While there is no cure for glaucoma—yet—medication or surgery can slow or prevent vision loss. Early detection is key to stopping the progress of the disease.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is characterized by increased intraocular pressure, or pressure due to buildup of fluid within the eye. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. In the U.S., approximately 120,000 people are blind from glaucoma, accounting for up to 12 percent of all cases of blindness.
Who is at risk?
People of any age or race can get glaucoma, but these groups are at higher risk:
- African Americans or Hispanics (especially over age 40)
- People over age 60
- People with a family history of the condition
- Those diagnosed (during an eye exam) with high internal eye pressure
- Those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and sickle cell anemia
- Those who have had an eye injury or eye surgery
- Those with certain eye conditions, such as severe nearsightedness
- Women with early estrogen deficiency
- Those taking corticosteroid medication, specially eyedrops, for a long time
How can you protect your vision?
Early detection and treatment of glaucoma, before it causes vision loss, is the best way to control the disease. If you fall into one or more of the high-risk groups, is to get a comprehensive eye exam. The Mayo Clinic advises scheduling regular comprehensive eye exams beginning at age 40. Ask your doctor to recommend the right screening schedule for you.