In an effort to spread the word about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the second leading source of permanent vision loss, responsible for 9%-12% of all cases of blindness in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Because the disease has no early symptoms, research shows that nearly half of those with glaucoma are not aware of their illness.
Glaucoma is actually a category of ocular diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve, the conduit that transmits images between the eye and the brain. Although anyone can develop glaucoma, there are certain populations that are at higher risk such as African Americans over age 40, anyone over age 60, in particular Mexican Americans, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma.
Since blindness of this kind can not be restored, vision can only be preserved through early diagnosis. This is difficult however, because symptoms are often not present before the optic nerve is damaged, and usually start with an irreparable loss of peripheral (side) vision.
Treatment for glaucoma is determined based on the type of glaucoma and the extent of the damage, and includes pressure-reducing eye surgery or medications, often eye drops. While experts are researching a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma develops gradually and requires constant attention, it is important to find an eye doctor experienced in this condition.
The NIH's National Eye Institute recently found that while glaucoma was known to ninety percent of the people they surveyed, only eight percent were aware that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only an experienced optometrist can detect the initial signs of glaucoma, by means of a thorough eye exam. An annual glaucoma screening is the most effective way to prevent damage from this silent disease. Don’t delay in scheduling your yearly comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.