Chances are good that your list of New Year’s Resolutions does not include getting an eye exam in January. Getting an eye exam must be top priority due to the risk of glaucoma. Although often associated with the elderly, glaucoma can affect anyone at any age, explains the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), so take a few moments to understand these facts about glaucoma.
How Prevalent Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is responsible for more than 120,000 cases of blindness in the U.S. According to the GRF, 1.5 million Americans may be living with glaucoma and not know it. By 2030, the prevalence of glaucoma in the U.S. is expected to climb to 4.2 million. Glaucoma robs people of vision slowly, starting in the peripheral vision, so many do not realize its effects until it is too late. By the time people notice vision loss, up to 40 percent of vision may have been lost forever. Globally, glaucoma affects up to 60 million people.
What Causes Glaucoma?
There are several types glaucoma, says the GRF, but most cases fall into open-angle glaucoma (OAG) or angle-closure glaucoma (ACG). The slow clogging of drainage canals between the iris and cornea causes OAG. Blocked drainage canals in ACG cause intraocular (within the eye) pressure to rise, which damages the optic nerve. As pressure increases, the optic nerve becomes incapable of transmitting electrical impulses to the brain, resulting in blindness. Glaucoma can also occur in cases of mildly increased intraocular pressure or as the result of nervous system injuries, metabolic diseases, other illnesses, or as a result of incomplete cornea development in the womb.
What Are the Risk Factors for Glaucoma?
Glaucoma has many risk factors. The disease disproportionately affects different races, occurring in African Americans 15x more often than in Caucasians, and elderly Hispanics face a similar risk for developing glaucoma. People over 60, family members of those with a glaucoma diagnosis, those living with diabetes and individuals with extreme nearsightedness are at greatest risk for developing glaucoma. Due to these risks, routine eye exams are essential for everyone.
Sudden, severe dizziness, double vision, severe pain in the eyes or rapid loss of sight can be symptoms of ACG. If that occurs, seek help IMMEDIATELY.
Can Glaucoma Be Prevented?
Glaucoma is a tricky illness in that its causes may not necessarily be preventable. Managing health conditions properly and getting regular eye exams are essential to preserving vision. In addition, treatment options exist to help preserve vision as well, but there is no cure, not yet at least.
Get Involved in Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Since glaucoma is preventable through regular eye exams, make Glaucoma Awareness Month your easy reminder to schedule an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Talk with your family and friends about glaucoma, and volunteer at local glaucoma fundraisers. If you can’t find one, you can even host your own fundraiser via the GRF. Your sight is everything; don’t let glaucoma squander it.