National Glaucoma Awareness Month
Glaucoma is an important public health problem in the United States, affecting at least 2 million people. It is the second leading cause of blindness and the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. Yet it is estimated that half of those suffering from the disease in this country remain undiagnosed. The Department of Veterans Affairs urges everyone over 40 to seek screening for glaucoma during January which is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. People with a higher risk than others of getting the disease include:
- People over age of 60
- African-Americans over the age of 40
- Individuals with a family history of glaucoma
- People with diabetes mellitus
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the sight nerve, also known as the optic nerve, is damaged over time. In most cases the normal fluid pressure inside the eye rises. This rise in pressure is caused by reduced drainage out of the eye. Over time, the optic nerve is damaged. Sometimes the pressure does not rise, but the nerve tissue slowly starves from poor blood circulation and lack of essential nutrients. The end result is damaged nerve tissue.
In its initial stages glaucoma has no symptoms. However, a person will experience some loss of side or peripheral vision. Objects straight ahead may be seen clearly, but objects to the side are missed. As the disease progresses more side vision is lost. Testing for glaucoma is done with an eye examination that usually includes dilating the pupils. The examining eye doctor will put in eye drops that will enlarge the pupils and assist in the examination. In addition a test is commonly performed to accurately measure side vision, called a visual field test.
Although open-angle glaucoma cannot be cured, it can usually be controlled with medication. Drugs in the form of eye drops and pills are designed to reduce pressure in the eye. Treatment of glaucoma must be individualized because many patients may have other ailments, such as heart or lung disease. A laser treatment of open angle glaucoma is useful in some cases. This laser can be applied in a few minutes to lower eye pressure and treat glaucoma. Eye pressure is lowered in about 70% of the patients treated.
Surgery can also help; however, it is usually reserved for those whose pressure cannot be controlled with eye drops, pills or laser surgery.
Glaucoma is a chronic disease. Those diagnosed, can expect life-long treatment to keep it under control. Regular visits with your optometrist or ophthalmologist are needed to monitor changes in the optic nerve.
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