In order to increase awareness about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading source of avoidable blindness, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of blindness in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Due to the fact that glaucoma has no early symptoms, experts believe that nearly 50% of patients with the disease are unaware of their condition.
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images from the eye to the brain. Although glaucoma can affect people of all ages, there are particular groups that are more likely to develop it such as African Americans over age 40, anyone over age 60, particularly Mexican Americans, and those with a family history of glaucoma.
Because blindness due to optic nerve damage is irreversible, early diagnosis of glaucoma is crucial. Symptoms of the disease, however, are often not present before optical nerve damage has occurred, and usually begin with an irreparable loss of peripheral (side) vision.
Treatment for glaucoma is determined based on the disease characteristics and the amount of nerve damage, and includes pressure-reducing eye surgery or medications, often eye drops. While scientists are working hard to find a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore proper diagnosis and treatment are vital to preserve vision. Since glaucoma is a lifelong disease, it is preferable to find an eye doctor experienced in this condition.
According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while glaucoma was known to ninety percent of the people they surveyed, a mere eight percent were aware that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only an experienced optometrist can identify the initial effects of glaucoma, using a thorough glaucoma screening. A yearly glaucoma screening is your best defense against this silent disease. Don’t delay in scheduling your annual comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.