January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. While glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness, many people don’t realize they have the disease until it is too late because glaucoma doesn’t show symptoms. Spreading awareness about the importance of regular vision will help more people receive treatment while the disease is still in its early stages.
Glaucoma is a class of eye disease that causes gradual vision loss due to damage of the optic nerve. There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. Both types involve an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP) that damages the optic nerve, causing vision loss.
The disease affects over 3 million Americans and 60 million people worldwide. The National Eye Institute predicts that number will increase by as much as 58% in the United States by 2030, or 4.2 million people.
Sometimes called the “sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma doesn’t have any symptoms, causing it to often go undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage. It’s possible to lose up to 40% of vision without even noticing. And once lost, the vision damage is permanent.
Approximately 9-12% of all cases of blindness are due to glaucoma complications, although it is one of the few preventable causes of blindness. That’s why National Glaucoma Awareness month is so important. There are no known cures for glaucoma, but surgery and medication can slow the progression of the disease and preserve vision.
Vision loss caused by glaucoma starts with peripheral vision, which is why it can take people so long to notice. Early detection is critical to successful treatment. Catching the disease in its earliest stages allows for the most preservation of vision. Regular comprehensive eye exams are crucial for early detection and should be part of your healthcare routine, particularly for those at higher risk for the disease.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma:
- Family history
- Age over 60 years
- African, Asian, and Hispanic descent
- Severe nearsightedness
Learn more about glaucoma on the Glaucoma Research Foundation Website and schedule an appointment with your eye doctor!