Most people have heard of glaucoma but few understand the many risks associated with this silent sight-stealing disease. Glaucoma is dangerous because affected individuals may lose nearly half of their vision without noticing that it is waning. Today, more than four million Americans suffer from glaucoma-related vision loss. The National Eye Institute projects this number to increase substantially as America’s population ages. Since January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, it’s time to touch on the risks, symptoms and things you can do to maintain healthy eyes.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma isn’t a single disease but rather a group of conditions that damage the optical nerve, a large group of fibers that transmit visual signals to the brain. At first, glaucoma limits the edges of a person’s peripheral vision. Then, parts of the central vision field will be compromised if the condition is not treated. Once damaged, the delicate fibers of the optic nerve cannot be repaired. That’s why glaucoma is a leading cause of preventable, irreversible blindness. Today, glaucoma is responsible for 10 percent of all blindness cases. These people are particularly at risk for developing glaucoma.
- Individuals over 60
- Those with African, Hispanic or Asian heritage
- Anyone with a family history of glaucoma
Early detection and treatment is essential for protecting against vision loss. If the issue is diagnosed promptly, good vision can be maintained with surgery, laser treatments or eye drops that reduce intraocular pressure. Experts at the NEI encourage at-risk individuals to undergo a comprehensive eye exam every two years. During this procedure, ophthalmetrists dilate the eyes to look for subtle changes in the optic nerve.
Open-angle and angle-closure glaucoma are two forms of the disease that are prevalent in middle-aged adults. Primary open-angle glaucoma may affect one or both eyes and is generally marked by a chronic decrease in vision. Angle-closure glaucoma is a sudden and acute form of the disease that usually affects one eye. It can be very painful. The symptoms must be treated immediately and include blurring vision, eye pain, redness, halos and nausea.
Because most forms of glaucoma are caused by elevated intraocular pressure and poor blood flow, experts have found that physical activity, including walking and running, are beneficial for addressing these underlying causes. Your vision is your most valuable sense. Protect it by promoting glaucoma awareness in January.