January is Glaucoma Awareness Month where we bring awareness to this worldwide leading cause of blindness.
It can affect any age group and there are many types, but early detection and treatment can often prevent further vision loss or blindness.
The National Eye Institute estimates that over 3 million people in the U.S. have this eye disease. They estimate almost 4.5 million will have the blinding disease by 2030…almost a 50% increase.
Here’s a short review we hope you can share with your friends and family about glaucoma:
- What is Glaucoma?
- Symptoms and Diagnosis
- Risk Factors
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a gradual loss of vision resulting in permanent damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is composed of millions of nerve fibers which connect the retina to the brain. The eye disease damages these connections causing loss of vision or blindness.
There are many types of glaucoma, but the common denominator is damage to the optic nerve. The most common type of glaucoma in the United States is called “Open Angle.” In Asia, “Angle Closure” is more common and often seen in farsighted individuals. Though two completely different causes, the resultant damage to the optic nerve is the same.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Glaucoma
The most common finding is a high eye pressure, called intraocular pressure (IOP). The IOP is often obtained during your routine visit to your eye doctor. IOP helps us screen for patients at risk.
There is usually no pain or other symptoms associated with glaucoma. In fact, only advanced cases may demonstrate loss of peripheral vision with advanced situations involving central vision loss.
We use several diagnostic tools to help us, including:
- Visual field testing
- GDX and HRT- measures thickness/health of the retinal nerve fiber layer
- OCT – measures size and shape of the optic nerve
- IOP – high eye pressure correlates with disease
The diagnosis is not always straightforward and may take several visits over time to look for progression of the disease. Other factors, such as family history, may help make the diagnosis.
The diagnosis increases with age. Here’s a breakdown of specific risk factors:
- >60 years old, but especially Latino and Hispanic patients
- African Americans over age 40
- Family history
- Asian and/or farsighted patients
Glaucoma treatment often involves topical drops or oral medications. Moderate cases may require laser treatment, whereas more advanced situations may require special surgery.
Treatment is often geared to reducing the IOP, but will depend upon the exact type of glaucoma being treated.
What Can You Do?
Spread the word about glaucoma. Share this article with friends and family. Have open and honest discussions about your concerns over glaucoma and how this may affect your family.
Through education and awareness, our hope is to diagnose and treat those at risk of losing vision from this disease.