January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month
Glaucoma is a sight threatening disease. It is known as 'The Sneak Thief of Sight" because it causes permanent damage without any noticeable symptoms, until it’s too late. The vision loss happens gradually and therefor someone can lose an incredible amount vision without ever noticing any symptoms! Awareness and early detection are essential for effective treatment. This is why it is so important for your to come in for yearly visits, even if no one in your family has glaucoma.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide. It is a group of eye diseases in the same way that cancer is a group of diseases. It causes damage to the optic nerve and that leads to vision loss and eventual blindness. There are no obvious symptoms such as headache or eye pain. There are many types of glaucoma and only one, angle closure glaucoma, typically presents with pain.
Treatment for Glaucoma
Glaucoma is treated with medications most often and on occasion, surgery is needed. Once there is vision loss, it is irreversible, and this is why early detection is so important. Yearly visits can prevent vision loss and blindness.
Some people have had the "air puff" test. We treat many people for glaucoma in our office and although that is used as a a screening test, it is not a good way to monitor how glaucoma is progressing. Many people have normal pressures but have glaucoma. Today newer technologies are available, such as OCT (like an ultrasound), which allow eye doctors to look directly at the optic nerve to assess glaucoma progression. The treatment plan depends on a number of factors including the type of glaucoma and severity of the eye damage.
Both children and young adults can even have glaucoma. Ray Charles, for example, lost his vision because of glaucoma when he was just 5 years old. There are certain factors that increase the likelihood of having glaucoma. Below are some of the major risk factors:
Glaucoma Risk Factors
- Over 60 years old (over 40 for African Americans)
- Family history of glaucoma
- African or Hispanic descent
- Previous eye injury or surgery - even a childhood eye injury can lead to glaucoma decades later
- High nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Cortisone steroid use (in the form of eye drops, pills, creams etc.)
What can you do to prevent glaucoma? It's a good idea for you to:
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise daily
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prevent UV exposure (by wearing sunglasses, protective clothing and sunscreen when outdoors)
- Get regular comprehensive eye exams - and make sure to tell your eye doctor if you have risk factors for glaucoma
- Eat a healthy diet rich in a large variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, vitamins A, C, E and D, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids
Even if you have 20/20 SIGHT, you may still have an glaucoma. There is a lot more to do to keep your eyes and vision safe. During January, make a commitment to take the following steps toward glaucoma prevention:
- Assess your risk factors
- Schedule a comprehensive eye exam in our office. Even if you think you see clearly, it is important for you to schedule your appointment in order to detect and prevent eye diseases such as this "Sneak Thief".
- Adopt the healthy, preventative lifestyle guidelines outlined above
- Please share this important message with friends and family to ensure that they too are aware and take steps to prevent glaucoma from stealing their sight.