January is Glaucoma Awareness Month

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Glaucoma is a group of diseases that is one of the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment. What these diseases have in common is that they damage the eye’s optic nerve.

Damage to the optic nerve can initially cause blind spots at the outer edges of the field of vision, called the peripheral or side vision. Sometimes patients will complain of some eye discomfort. But the scary thing about glaucoma is that often the disease is asymptomatic. Damage to the optic nerve leads to vision loss, so early detection through screening is needed.

Patients and people should visit an eye care doctor every one to two years for a dilated eye exam. It’s important just not to focus on the eye pressure. You can have glaucoma with normal eye pressures. So the eye care doctor has to do a dilated eye exam and carefully look at the optic nerve for signs of glaucoma as well as asses the side vision or visual field in that patient.

Certain ethnic groups are at higher risk for glaucoma. African-Americans are particularly at higher risk for developing blindness from glaucoma, also patients who are 40-years or older and everyone over age 60. People with a family history of glaucoma also are at higher risk. Also, if you are either profoundly far-sighted or near-sighted you also may be at risk for developing glaucoma.

Early detection of glaucoma is especially important in helping older adults retain their vision and independence.

Glaucoma can be a challenging disease to manage. And the reason is it is often quite insidious—it causes very slow vision loss that is very difficult to perceive especially in its early stages. And the therapies that we often use sometimes have some side effects so its important for the patient to establish a very close relationship with their eye care provider so that they understand what the potential for their vision loss could be and they understand all the therapies that would help them keep their vision.
(Source NIH)