What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma – often called “the sneak thief of sight” because it can strike without pain or other symptoms – is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans – 91 percent – incorrectly believe glaucoma is preventable, according to the newest survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA). Although glaucoma is not preventable, if diagnosed and treated early, doctors of optometry can help a patient control the disease. Medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss.
Approximately 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have glaucoma, according to National Glaucoma Research; of these, as many as 120,000 are blind because of the disease. The number of Americans with glaucoma is estimated to increase to 3.3 million by the year 2020, as baby boomers age.
According to the AOA, glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that occur when internal pressure in the eye increases enough to cause damage to the optic nerve, leading to loss of nerve tissue, resulting in vision loss. The AOA’s annual Eye-Q® survey, which identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and related issues, showed that a large number of consumers do not know what glaucoma is and how severe the effects of the disease can be. Ninety-five percent of respondents did not know that glaucoma damages the optic nerve, and only 21 percent of respondents were aware that glaucoma causes deterioration of peripheral or side vision.
According to the AOA, there are two types of glaucoma. The most common type, primary open-angle glaucoma, develops gradually and painlessly, usually without symptoms. A rarer type, acute angle-closure glaucoma, occurs rapidly, and its symptoms may include blurred vision, loss of peripheral vision, seeing colored rings around lights, and pain or redness in the eyes.
“As glaucoma progresses, a person may notice their side vision gradually failing,” said Kerry Beebe, O.D., Chair of AOA’s Clinical Care Group Executive Committee. “When glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss seeing objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. Without treatment, people with glaucoma will continue to slowly lose their peripheral vision, and eventually their central vision as well. And vision lost to glaucoma cannot be recovered, so early detection and treatment is paramount.”
Causes of Glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma. However, some people are at higher risk than others.
Since vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, the best way to detect glaucoma is in its early stages by having regular, comprehensive eye exams. A comprehensive exam should include dilating the eyes which allows a doctor to clearly see the retina, optic nerve and vessels in the back of the eye. The exam should also include a test to measure corneal thickness, eye pressure, and a visual field assessment to measure retinal function. African-Americans and Hispanics are genetically more susceptible to glaucoma. Yet, 37 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics did not have their eyes dilated during their last eye exam, according to the American Eye-Q® survey. The AOA recommends eye exams every two years for adults under age 60 and every year thereafter. A doctor may recommend more frequent exams depending upon a patient’s medical or family history.
Treatment for Glaucoma
Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medicines to lower pressure in the eyes. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be effective in reducing pressure.
Medicare patients at high risk for glaucoma can receive dilated eye examinations as a benefit of Medicare coverage. Currently eligible beneficiaries are individuals with diabetes mellitus, individuals with a family history of glaucoma, Hispanic-Americans age 65 and over, and African-Americans age 50 and over.
For additional information on glaucoma and other issues concerning eye health, please call 239-592-5511 for an appointment.