In an effort to create awareness about the ''sneak thief of sight,'' this month has been declared National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, responsible for 9%-12% of all cases of blindness in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Because the disease is initially asymptomatic, experts believe that close to 50% of patients with glaucoma are unaware of their illness.
Glaucoma is the name for 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 to be processed in the brain. Although glaucoma can affect people of all ages, those at higher risk include African Americans above age 40, anyone over age 60, particularly of Mexican ancestry, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma.
Because blindness of this kind can not be restored, early diagnosis of glaucoma is critical. Symptoms of the disease, however, are often not present before the optic nerve is damaged, and usually start with an irreversible 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. Although experts are researching a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore proper diagnosis and treatment are the only ways to preserve vision. Because glaucoma develops gradually and requires constant attention, it is preferable to find an eye doctor you trust.
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 a qualified eye care professional can identify the initial effects of glaucoma, by means of a thorough eye exam. A yearly eye exam is your best defense against this often over-looked disease. Don’t delay in getting a glaucoma screening before it’s too late.