There are many good reasons to get an eye exam each year, and perhaps one of the most important is to find out if you have indications of glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that can lead to blindness.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and this reminder is a public health service to people of all ages to get a comprehensive eye exam. While there is no cure for glaucoma, there are treatments available to preserve sight.
Glaucoma•According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. The Glaucoma Research Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for glaucoma, can provide information on causes and treatments of this eye disease. Some estimates state that there are over 60 million people worldwide with suspected cases of glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation states that there are currently 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 with glaucoma. The National Eye Institute is projecting that there will be a 58 percent increase in this number by 2030.
Who is at Risk for Glaucoma
There are risk factors for glaucoma:
- Glaucoma can strike at any age—from newborns to elders. However, people over age 60 are at a higher risk, as are family members of those who have glaucoma, and people with diabetes. People who are severely nearsighted are also at risk for glaucoma.
- African Americans are more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians are, and blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
- The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19 percent of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6 percent in Caucasians.
If You Have Glaucoma
Glaucoma is sometimes called the “sneak thief of sight” because often there are no symptoms of the disease and once vision is lost it cannot be regained. The Glaucoma Research Foundation states that as much as 40 percent of vision can be lost without a person noticing.
If you receive a diagnosis of glaucoma, it is important to know what it may mean. First, it does not necessarily mean that you will go blind. Blindness from glaucoma is a relatively rare occurrence: there are approximately 120,000 cases of blindness in the U.S. and 2.3 million cases of glaucoma, or 5 percent of glaucoma patients. Sight impairment from glaucoma occurs in about 10 percent of patients.
Glaucoma can be controlled with treatments for life—eye drops, laser treatment or surgery—and these treatments may be able to help prevent additional vision loss.