Glaucoma, the ‘Sneak Thief of Sight’ may strike without pain or other symptoms
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians is urging people of all ages to take control of their eye health through early detection to help minimize the risk of developing glaucoma. Glaucoma leads to progressive damage to the optic nerve and a loss of nerve tissue resulting in loss of vision.
Currently, 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 have glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S., yet understanding and awareness of the disease is still relatively low. According to data from the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2013 American Eye-Q® consumer survey, Americans do not fully understand glaucoma:
- 72 percent think glaucoma has early warning signs—it does not –only a comprehensive eye exam administered by an eye doctor can detect the disease
- 86 percent don’t know what part of vision glaucoma affects— progressive deterioration to peripheral vision making it hard to see
- 47 percent think glaucoma is preventable—it is not preventable but it may be treated and progression can be slowed if it is detected and treated early
“Yearly, comprehensive eye exams play a critical role in detection and treatment of glaucoma,” said Dr. Maria Richman, optometric physician and president of the NJSOP. “Dilated eye exams allow eye doctors to thoroughly examine the pressure and nerves inside the eyes for potential signs of the disease. Early detection, prompt treatment and regular monitoring can help control glaucoma, and therefore, reduce the chances of progressive vision loss.”
Americans are also unaware if they are at risk for developing glaucoma: only 13 percent of Americans know that a person’s race could place them at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. Additional factors that can increase the risk of developing glaucoma include those who have a family history of glaucoma, hypothyroidism, are over age 60 or individuals who have had severe eye trauma.
Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medicines to lower pressure in the eyes. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be effective in reducing pressure.