January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

By Sarah Naron

Messenger Reporter

Eye health organizations across the country are gearing up to spend the month of January educating Americans on the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options of glaucoma, a common cause of blindness for which no cure is currently available.

It is estimated by the National Eye Institute that more than three million people in the United States are living with glaucoma of varying severity, a number predicted to rise 58 percent to 4.2 million by 2030.

Worldwide, glaucoma affects an approximate total of 60 million – roughly half of which, experts say, are unaware of the problem. Of the cases around the world, the World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million have progressed to the point of causing blindness.

Glaucoma is nicknamed “the sneak thief of sight” due to the fact that it leads to permanent blindness with many cases presenting no symptoms. Experts say that up to 40 percent of an individual’s vision can be lost before he or she notices there is an issue.

“Once vision is lost from glaucoma, it cannot be restored,” said Prevent Blindness President and CEO Hugh R. Parry. “However, vision loss can be slowed with early diagnosis and treatment.”

Glaucoma presents in a number of forms, the two most common being acute angle-closure glaucoma (ACG) and primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG).

ACG is the most likely to cause symptoms, which typically include blurred or hazy vision, severe headache or eye pain which may cause nausea and vomiting, the appearance of multicolored circles when looking at bright lights and sudden loss of sight. Symptoms are easily noticed, and the disease causes rapidly-occurring damage.

In contrast, POAG typically exhibits no early warning signs and tends to develop slowly, with many victims noticing no significant sight loss for numerous years.

This is largely due to the fact that peripheral vision is first to be affected by this form of glaucoma, while vision acuity remains intact until the disease has progressed to a later stage. POAG is the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease.

Individuals with a family history of glaucoma are at a higher risk of developing the disease, as well as older adults and those who are of African-American or Latino descent. A previous diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or diabetes may also pose an increased risk of glaucoma.

Undergoing regular eye exams is crucial to diagnosis glaucoma prior to the occurrence of significant damage. Treatment can begin immediately after the condition is discovered.

While no cure exists, treatments have been developed so that many people living with glaucoma experience no meaningful loss of vision during their lifetime.

Typically, the treatment of choice is a medicated eye drop that is used daily to lower the amount of pressure in the eye. Other treatment avenues include laser surgery – trabeculoplasty for POAG and iridotomy for ACG – an operating room surgery called a trabeculectomy and the implantation of a drainage device in the eye.

For more information, contact your eye care professional or visit www.glaucoma.org.

Sarah Naron may be reached via email at snaron@messenger-news.com.