In an effort to spread the word about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' January has been named National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the second leading source of permanent vision loss, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of blindness in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people around the world. Since the disease has no early symptoms, experts believe that nearly 50% of patients with glaucoma are not aware of their illness.
Glaucoma is the name for a category of ocular diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve, the conduit that transmits images to the brain. Although glaucoma can affect anyone, there are certain groups that are at higher risk such as African Americans over age 40, senior citizens, in particular Mexican Americans, and those with a family history of the disease.
Because blindness of this kind can not be restored, early diagnosis of glaucoma is critical. This is difficult however, because symptoms are often not present before the optic nerve is damaged, and usually begin with an irreversible loss of peripheral (side) vision.
While scientific efforts are being made, there is currently no cure for glaucoma, however current methods of treatment, including medication or surgery, can reduce disease progression and reduce further loss of vision. Treatment depends upon a number of factors, which include the type of damage and the extent of vision loss.
According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while ninety percent of people had heard of glaucoma, a mere eight percent were aware that it has no early warning signs. Only an experienced optometrist can detect the early signs of glaucoma, through a comprehensive eye exam. A yearly eye exam is your best defense against this potentially devastating disease. Don’t delay in scheduling a glaucoma screening before it’s too late.