SAN FRANCISCO—Glaucoma continues to be a major cause of blindness and vision loss both worldwide and in the United States, where an estimated 2.2 million people have the disease.
During World Glaucoma Week 2010, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart™ campaign and EyeCare America Foundation remind Americans that knowing your risks for glaucoma can save your sight. People with the top risk factors for the disease need to be especially vigilant. A recent National Eye Institute (NEI) report found that fewer than 10 percent of Americans surveyed knew that glaucoma has no early warning signs, in most cases.
“Glaucoma’s silent onset is a key reason the disease so often damages people’s vision before they know they have it, and why eye exams are vital,” says Andrew Iwach, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) and glaucoma expert. “Ophthalmologists–Eye M.D.s–can detect the subtle, early signs of glaucoma and provide treatment that will help people keep their best possible vision.”
Top risk factors for glaucoma are:
- Age (65 years and older)
- Elevated eye pressure
- Family history of glaucoma
- African, Asian or Latino ethnicity
- Related health problems, including diabetes, low blood pressure, migraine headaches
For people of any age with symptoms or risks for eye disease, such as glaucoma, the Academy recommends seeing an Eye M.D. to decide on eye exam intervals and other needed care. For adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease, the Academy recommends a baseline screening at age 40—the time when the early stages of age-related eye disorders and vision changes may begin. Based on this screening information, the Eye M.D. will prescribe how often to return for follow-up exams.
NEI and other research show that timely treatment helps save people’s vision. Such studies also give ophthalmologists new data on improving patient care. For example, the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study found that eye pressure-reducing medications lowered the risk of glaucoma by more than 50 percent in high-risk patients.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve that transmits images from the eye to the brain. As glaucoma worsens, cells also die in the retina–a special, light-sensitive area of the eye–which further reduces the optic nerve’s function. The most common form of the disease is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Fluid builds up in the front chamber of the eye, and the optic nerve is damaged by the resulting increase in eye pressure.
If a person has POAG, the lack of obvious symptoms makes it nearly impossible for him to know he has the disease. Since POAG-related vision changes are so gradual and easily overlooked, regular eye exams are important. Symptoms of the less common but more immediately dangerous closed-angle glaucoma include: blurred vision, severe eye pain and headache, rainbow-colored halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. Anyone with these symptoms needs to be seen by an Eye M.D. right away
Reprinted with permission from AAO’s www.geteyesmart.org.
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