Are you or your loved ones at risk for glaucoma? How much do you actually know about the disease? Despite glaucoma being the leading cause of blindness in the United States, the vast majority of us know very little about it (and over half of us don’t even know we have it)! January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, the perfect time to educate yourself and spread awareness of this common “sneaky thief of sight.” A quick review of glaucoma keep reading below. (Here is a deeper dive into the glaucoma disease.)
What Is Glaucoma?
Although it might sound like a singular condition,glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that damages the optic nerve, causing irreversible blindness (partial or complete). The optic nerve is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain, allowing us to make sense of what we’re seeing. As you can imagine, any kind of injury to this nerve, like a failed connection, is going to inevitably cause a loss of vision.
There are many different typesof glaucoma, but the two main types are primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. POAG is the most common form, accounting for up to 90% of all cases. The term “open-angle” refers to the space within the eye where the cornea meets the iris, which is wide and open to fluid drainage. The slow clogging of the drainage canals results in elevated eye pressure (intraocular pressure or IOP), thus damaging the optic nerve. POAG typically has no noticeable symptoms and is a slow-moving, lifelong condition.
Unlike POAG, angle-closure glaucoma happens very quickly and is considered an ocular emergency. Although it is more rare, a very narrow or “closed angle” between the cornea and iris can cause the drainage ducks in the eye to become blocked and a patient’s IOP can become dangerously high very quickly.
In Normal Tension Glaucoma (NTG), the optic nerve is damaged despite having a relatively normal IOP. Interestingly, people of Japanese ancestry seem to have a higher risk for developing this particular type of glaucoma.
Congenital Glaucoma is usually diagnosed within the first year of life and occurs in babies with incorrect/incomplete development of the eye’s drainage canals. This is rare, and most likely inherited.
Other types include Pigmentary, Pseudoexfoliative, Uveitic, and Traumatic Glaucoma, as well as Iridocorneal Endothelial Syndrome (ICE). Click herefor a more in depth look on each of them!
How Do We Diagnose Glaucoma?
The scariest thing about glaucoma is its lack of symptoms. According to Glaucoma.org, “as much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing.” Pretty sobering, right? In acute cases, patients will often report blind spots to their peripheral (side) vision, blurred vision or halos, mild headaches or eye pain, and nausea and vomiting. Because the majority of patients do not notice a change in their vision until the damage is quite severe, regular comprehensive eye examsare crucial to early detection and diagnosis. Patients very often get diagnosed with glaucoma during a routine eye exam. Your eye doctor will note any changes in your eye pressure (IOP), the structure and anatomy of your eye, and the health of the optic nerve head. If their findings are consistent with glaucoma, they will order special testing to confirm a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, your condition will be managed by designing a treatment plan specific to your particular presentation.
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
As we mentioned earlier, there is no cure for glaucoma (yet). Until then, the goal of treatment is for the progression of the disease to be delayed or halted. Fortunately, eye doctors can manage glaucoma very well with early detection, compliance with treatment plans, and follow-up. As a first line of defense, glaucoma patients are often given prescription eye drops to lower their eye pressure. Laser treatment is another option, which aims to open the drainage angle and allow fluid to escape (thus lowering the patient’s IOP). This treatment option is most commonly used with narrow or closed angle glaucoma and is effective in lowering eye pressure in 75-80% of eyes with results lasting from 1-5 years.
The next form of treatment is surgery, usually reserved for the more challenging and severe cases in which a patient’s IOP cannot be controlled in any other way. This is also an option for elderly patients who are incapable of consistently using their eye drops. The goal of surgery is to create a new passage for fluid drainage as a way of lowering eye pressure, and several surgical options are available.
Who Is At Risk For Glaucoma?
It is important to note that glaucoma is more prevalent among the African-American and Latino communities. In fact, glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than in Caucasions. Among Hispanics in older age groups, the risk of glaucoma is nearly as high as that of African-Americans. There is also a strong genetic component to glaucoma, so family members of a person diagnosed with the disease have a significantly increased risk. Other high risk groups include people over 60, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
How To Help Raise Awareness
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma, and 3 million people in the United States currently have it. If we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye exams, the National Eye Institute projects that the number of Americans with glaucoma will increase by 58% by 2030. During Glaucoma Awareness Month, make it a point to talk with your friends and family about glaucoma. Refer your friends to reputable resources, such as www.glaucoma.org, for regular updates on glaucoma research, treatments, news and information. Don’t forget to donate for a cure!
Schedule An Eye ExamWe urge you with cherry on top to make an appointmentfor a routine eye exam! This is the biggest step you can take in preserving your vision. Eyes should be examined regularly, but you should get a baseline eye screening around 40, as early signs of eye disease or changes in vision may start to occur. The results of this initial screening will determine your follow-up schedule. Remember, a loss of complete or partial vision can be avoided with early detection!