More than 3 million Americans have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by the year 2030, which, over a 15-year period, represents a 58 percent increase. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal a person’s vision and, because there are no symptoms, there is often no warning of the disease’s presence until vision is lost.
“Glaucoma is often referred to as ‘the sneak thief of sight’ because there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it is permanent,” said Andrew Lavey, OD. People with glaucoma can lose as much as 40 percent of their vision without even noticing it. Although the most common forms of glaucoma primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, but it can also affect people of all ages.
Damage to the optic nerve causes the loss of vision. This nerve acts like an electric cable with more than a million wires and is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain. “Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness,” said Dr. Lavey.
At this time there is no cure for glaucoma. However, medication or surgery can slow its progress, or prevent further vision loss. “As with other diseases, early detection is vital to stopping the progress of this disease,” said Dr. Lavey. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma a person is diagnosed with among other factors.
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma.
The Importance of Regular Eye Exams
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. As a result, people with this disease may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. “Because there are virtually no symptoms associated with glaucoma, the best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination. If after a person’s examination, it is determined that he/she has glaucoma treatment can begin immediately and, in most cases will effectively slow or stop the progression of the disease,” said Dr. Lavey.
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. However, certain people are at higher risk than others.
The following are groups at higher risk for developing glaucoma.
While cataracts rank first, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness among African Americans and people of African descent. Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than in Caucasians.
People 60 years of age and older
Glaucoma is six times more likely to occur in people older than 60.
Family Members with Glaucoma
The most common type of glaucoma is hereditary. People whose immediate family members have glaucoma, are at a much higher risk than the rest of the population. In fact, family history increases the risk of glaucoma four to nine times.
Hispanics in Older Age Groups
Recent studies indicate that the risk for Hispanic populations is greater than those of predominantly European ancestry, and that the risk increases among Hispanics who are older than 60.
People of Asian descent appear to be at increased risk for angle-closure glaucoma. Angle-closure glaucoma accounts for less than 10% of all diagnosed cases of glaucoma. People of Japanese descent are at higher risk for normal-tension glaucoma.
There is evidence that links steroid use to glaucoma. A 1997 study reported in the Journal of American Medical Association demonstrated a 40 percent increase in the incidence of ocular hypertension and open-angle glaucoma in adults who require approximately 14 to 35 puffs of a steroid inhaler to control asthma.
An injury to the eye may cause secondary open-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur immediately after the injury or several years later. Blunt injuries that “bruise” the eye (called blunt trauma) or injuries that penetrate the eye and damages its drainage system, which can lead to traumatic glaucoma. The most common cause is sports-related injuries such as baseball or boxing.
Other Risk Factors or health conditions
• High myopia (severe nearsightedness)
• Central corneal thickness less than .5 mm
Raising Awareness for Early Detection and Prevention
“Combined with our aging population, we can see an epidemic of blindness looming if we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision,” said Dr. Lavey. Regular eye exams are especially important for the prevention or early detection of glaucoma. “It is very important for people to have regular eye exams because if detected early glaucoma can be treated effectively,” added Dr. Lavey.
To help raise awareness in the prevention, or early detection of glaucoma people need to talk to their friends and family about it – don’t keep it a secret – family history is one of the risk factors for this disease.
To learn more about glaucoma, visit the following websites: