The American Academy of Ophthalmology has named January Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States and often has no noticeable symptoms in its early stages.
When glaucoma is present, vision loss progresses at such a gradual rate that people affected by the condition are often unaware of it until their sight has already been compromised.
During Glaucoma Awareness Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises the public that the best defense against developing glaucoma-related blindness is to maintain a routinely comprehensive eye exams.
Dr. Steven Rhee of Hawaiian Eye Center explains, “Glaucoma is caused by an increase in eye pressure, known as intraocular pressure, due to either an overproduction of fluid in the eye or blockage in the drainage area where the cornea and iris meet. Those with normal eye pressure can also develop glaucoma and it’s believed to be caused by poor blood flow to the optic nerve.”
Symptoms of glaucoma normally go unnoticed until the disease has progressed significantly. Gradual loss of peripheral vision is a common symptom of open-angle glaucoma.
Another type of glaucoma called angle closure glaucoma has more abrupt symptoms such as severe eye pain, headache, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, seeing halos around lights and red eyes.
Those most at risk of developing glaucoma include those:
- Aged 40 and over
- Of Hispanic, Asian or African-American descent or with a family history of the disease
- Diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension
- Who have had an eye injury or eye surgery
- With extreme nearsightedness (myopia)
- Taking steroid medications for an extended period of time
Most risk factors are not preventable, and the optic nerve is unable to regenerate. However, glaucoma can be successfully controlled with an early diagnosis and treatment to slow down or stop further damage. Treatment ranges from eye drops to laser surgery and microsurgery, which helps to lower eye pressure.
Those 40 and over should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam every two to three years from an eye care professional to check for glaucoma and other eye diseases. People mostly likely to develop glaucoma should get an eye exam once a year, including those 40 and over and those with other risk factors.
Visit your eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam to prevent any signs of glaucoma.