Glaucoma Facts

As we are nearing the end of January and it is National Glaucoma Awareness Month here are some facts you should know. Glaucoma is the second most common treatable cause of blindness in the US. Glaucoma is a condition that damages the optic nerve. It is linked to a build-up of pressure inside the eye.

  • More than 3 million Americans are living with glaucoma
  • 7 million of people-aged 40 and older-are affected by its most common form, open-angle glaucoma.

Glaucoma costs the U.S. economy $2.86 billion every year in direct costs and productivity losses.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among African Americans and Hispanics in the U.S.

  • Open-angle glaucoma is three to four times more common in African Americans than in non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Glaucoma is fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans than in Caucasians.
  • The prevalence of glaucoma rises rapidly in Hispanics over age 65.

Optic nerve damage usually occurs in the presence of high eye (intraocular) pressure. However, glaucoma can be diagnosed with normal or even lower than normal eye pressure.

There are two main forms of glaucoma: open-angle (most common) and angle-closure.

  • Open-angle is the most common form and affects approximately 95% of individuals.
  • Open-angle glaucoma initially has no symptoms. At some point, side (peripheral) vision is lost and without treatment, an individual can become totally blind.
  • In the United States, the major type of glaucoma, called open-angle glaucoma, strikes African Americans and Hispanics at higher rates than other ethnic groups.

Angle-closure glaucoma comes in two forms: acute or chronic.

  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma occurs when the normal flow of aqueous humor between the iris and the lens is suddenly blocked. Symptoms may include severe pain, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and a rainbow halo appearing around lights. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency that must be treated immediately or blindness can result in one or two days.
  • Chronic angle-closure glaucoma progresses slowly and can produce damage without symptoms, similar to open-angle glaucoma.

Regular eye exams are needed for a proper diagnosis and to prevent damage to the optic nerve.

  • Eye doctors use several tests to detect glaucoma including: visual acuity test, visual field test, dilated eye exam, tonometry, pachymetry, ophthalmoscopy, gonioscopy, and optic nerve imaging.
  • Individuals at high risk for glaucoma should have a dilated pupil eye examination, including a visual field test, at least every one to two years or as directed by a doctor.
  • Some studies have shown that perhaps half of people living with glaucoma aren’t even aware they have the disease.

There are also several other forms of glaucoma, including normal-tension, congenital, juvenile, and secondary.

  • Secondary glaucoma can be open-angle or closed-angle and results from another medical condition in the eye or body. Examples of secondary glaucoma include pseudo exfoliation syndrome, neovascular, pigmentary, and iridocorneal endothelial syndrome (ICE syndrome).

Strong risk factors for open-angle glaucoma include:

  • High eye pressure
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Age 40 and older for African Americans
  • Age 60 and older for the general population, especially Mexican Americans
  • Thin cornea
  • Suspicious optic nerve appearance with increased cupping (size of cup, the space at the center of optic nerve, is larger than normal)

Potential risk factors for open-angle glaucoma include:

  • High myopia (very severe nearsightedness)
  • Diabetes
  • Eye surgery or injury
  • High blood pressure
  • Use of corticosteroids (for example, eye drops, pills, inhalers, and creams)
  • Prescription eye drops could cut African Americans’ risk of getting glaucoma in half.

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma; however, through early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be controlled before vision loss or blindness occurs.

  • Treatments for open-angle glaucoma include: medications, usually eye drops, to help eye fluid drain more effectively or lessen fluid production; laser surgery; and conventional surgery.
  • New treatment research is focused on lowering pressure inside the eye, finding medications to protect and preserve the optic nerve from the damage that causes vision loss, and the role of genetic factors.
  • Approximately 5.6 million prescriptions were filled for glaucoma patients in 2001.
  • The average direct cost of glaucoma treatment ranges from $623 per year for patients with early-stage glaucoma to $2,511 per year for end stage patient

I can’t stress how important it is to know there are no signs or symptoms for glaucoma, in the early stages, glaucoma does not cause pain and will not blur your vision.

I am sorry but this hits a nerve with me. I can’t tell you how many people tell me BEFORE I do a glaucoma test “Oh, I don’t have glaucoma, I see fine.”

The main reason for vision loss because of glaucoma is that it is not diagnosed early. Many people feel a false sense of security if they see fine and have no pain. Once glaucoma is identified at an early stage it is easy to treat, and RARELY causes blindness. Once the “silent thief of sight” symptoms are experienced glaucoma has advanced in severity




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