By Michael D. Pattison, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJanuary 17, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 17, 2012) -- National Glaucoma Awareness Month is in January and it was set aside to help educate people on the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve in the back of the eye, which can result in a loss of vision.
The biggest problem is that most people are usually not aware of any changes in their sight until they have lost around 40 percent of their total vision. This loss normally starts in the periphery or side vision and can progress to total blindness.
More than two million Americans have glaucoma, with approximately 120,000 being blind because of the condition. The troubling fact is that most experts estimate that half of those people are not even aware that they have it. The best way to prevent significant vision loss from glaucoma is early detection through a periodic, comprehensive eye examination from an eye doctor.
This is especially important in African-Americans, Hispanics, the elderly, and those with a family member who has glaucoma since these people are more likely to have glaucoma. How often a person should be examined can be determined between the individual and his doctor. Those in higher risk groups can expect to be required to have an eye examination more regularly.
Vision screenings where only the pressure in the eyes is checked are not the same as a comprehensive eye exam. High pressure in the eyes alone does not necessarily mean a person has glaucoma. Additionally, a person does not need to have high pressure in the eyes to have glaucoma. When seeing an eye doctor make sure to ask for a comprehensive eye exam.
If diagnosed with glaucoma and it is detected early, treatments such as eye drops or surgery can usually stop or slow the progression of vision loss. Currently, there is not a cure for glaucoma, although a lot of research is being done to find one. One important thing to know is that the vision loss caused by glaucoma does not return with treatment; vision loss that has already occurred is permanent. Treatment only stops or reduces the rate of new vision loss, which is why periodic comprehensive eye examinations are so important.
Choosing an eye doctor is important because glaucoma, like high blood pressure and diabetes, is a disease which needs to be treated for life. Be willing to discuss any side effects or symptoms resulting from medication, and make certain there is a clear understand and written directions on how and when to take medicine. Make certain to take medicine as it is prescribed.
Remember, the most important thing in preventing the loss of vision due to glaucoma is early detection. Sight is a precious gift; take good care of it.