January is Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Glaucoma can lead to blindness by damaging the optic nerve. Elevated pressure in the eye is a risk factor, but even people with normal pressure can lose vision to glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.
The most common form of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma. This is marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. Open-angle glaucoma accounts for approximately 90 percent of all glaucoma cases.
Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.
Signs and Symptoms
In the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. Glaucoma is painless, and patients do not realize they are losing their vision until the later stages, when the damage is irreversible.
When symptoms do appear, usually after the disease has progressed, they are in the form of the following:
- Loss of side (peripheral) vision
- Difficulty focusing on close-up words
- Seeing colored rings or halos around lights
- Headaches and eye pain
- Frequent changes of corrective lens prescriptions
- Difficulty adjusting eyes to the dark
Anyone can get glaucoma, but some people have a greater risk of developing the condition:
- People over age 40 who have not had regular eye exams
- Anyone over the age of 60
- People with family histories of glaucoma
- Those with abnormally high intraocular pressure
- People of African descent, especially those over the age of 40
- Those with myopia (nearsightedness)
- People who have undergone long-term steroid or cortisone use
- People with previous eye injuries
Prevention and Treatment
There is no cure for glaucoma yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent continued vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma as well as other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progression of the disease. Be sure to get regular eye exams (every two years until age 60, and annually from age 60 on).