According to the National Eye Institute, over 4 million people in the United States suffer with glaucoma, half of whom do not know they have it. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and a good opportunity to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam to detect the disease and prevent it from causing future chronic visual impairment, including blindness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines glaucoma as a “group of diseases that damage the optic nerve and lead to vision loss.” The most common form of the disease, primary open-angle glaucoma, often occurs with increased eye fluid pressure. However, not everyone with high eye pressure will develop glaucoma, and it can also occur in people who do not have increased eye pressure. Some other forms of glaucoma include low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, congenital glaucoma, and secondary glaucomas.
While glaucoma can occur in anyone, certain groups are at an increased risk for the disease. These include individuals over the age of 60, Mexican Americans, African Americans over the age of 40, people with diabetes, and those with a family history of glaucoma or diabetes. Other risk factors include high pressure in the eye, chronic eye inflation, and cornea thinness.
Although there is currently no preventive treatment, early detection has been found to be very effective in stopping and preventing vision impairment. A comprehensive dilated eye exam consists of having drops put in one's eye by an eye care professional so that he/she can detect early signs of the disease. Other exams that can be conducted include a visual field test, visual acuity test, tonometry, and pachymetry. When detected early, medication (eye drops or pills) or surgery can be used to treat the disease and stop vision loss. However, if one waits to be examined until symptoms appear, such as loss of peripheral vision, treatments will not be able to recover lost sight and may not be able to prevent further vision impairment.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that individuals who are at increased risk, as described above, have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at every year.Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.