It’s that time of year again. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time set aside each year to create awareness about this potentially devastating disease. The reason awareness about glaucoma is so important is because as its nickname, The Sneak Thief of Sight, describes, the disease often causes permanent damage to your eyes and vision without any noticeable symptoms, until it’s too late. In fact, up to 40% of your vision could be lost without any noticeable symptoms! This is why awareness and early detection are essential for effective treatment.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide. It is a group of eye diseases that results in damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.
Most cases of glaucoma occur without obvious symptoms. Often people think they will experience headache or eye pain, however this is largely a misconception. There are several types of glaucoma and only one, angle closure glaucoma, typically presents with pain.
Treatment for Glaucoma
While there is still no cure for glaucoma, there are medications and surgical procedures that are able to prevent and slow any further vision loss. However, any vision that is lost is irreversible, usually. Again, this is why early detection is key to stopping and preventing vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma screening includes a number of tests. Many people believe the test used to measure eye pressure is what detects glaucoma, but this is not the whole picture. In fact, many people can develop glaucoma with normal eye pressure. Today newer technologies are available, such as OCT (like an ultrasound), which allow eye doctors to look directly at the optic nerve to assess glaucoma damage or progression. The treatment plan depends on a number of factors including the type of glaucoma and severity of the eye damage.
While anyone can be affected by glaucoma, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the likelihood of getting the disease. Being aware of the risk factors and knowing whether you are at higher risk puts you in a better position to take steps toward early detection, including regular screenings by an eye doctor.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
- Over 40 years old
- Family history of glaucoma
- African or Hispanic descent
- Have high eye pressure
- Have corneas that are thin in center
- Previous eye injury or surgery - even a childhood eye injury can lead to glaucoma decades later
- Diabetes, migraines, obstructive sleep apnea, or poor circulation
- High nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Cortisone steroid use (in the form of eye drops, pills, creams etc.)
Since there is no proven way to prevent glaucoma, early detection and treatment are critical. Even if you have 20/20 vision, you may still have an asymptomatic eye disease such as glaucoma. During January, make a commitment to take the following additional steps toward glaucoma awareness:
- Assess your risk factors
- Schedule a comprehensive eye exam and discuss glaucoma with your eye doctor. Even if you feel you have clear vision, it is worthwhile to book an eye exam in order to detect eye diseases such as this "Sneak Thief"
- Spread the word. Talk about glaucoma to friends and family to ensure that they too can become aware and take steps to prevent glaucoma from stealing their sight.