January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a disease where the pressure in the eye rises and slowly kills off the optic nerve and leads to blindness. Here are just a few facts about Glaucoma:
- It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it.
- In the U.S., more than 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness.
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
- After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans.
- Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
- African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians.
- The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19% of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6% in Caucasians.
- Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
- Estimates put the total number of suspected cases of glaucoma at over 60 million worldwide.
Glaucoma comes in a variety of forms. The most common is a chronic variety where the normal pressure in the eye elevates and slowly chokes off the nerve ultimately causing blindness. Unfortunately there are no symptoms that the patient experiences to let them know this process is happening. Glaucoma is as silent as blood pressure issues are until the problem is so advanced that very little can be done. Just as one never wants to have a stroke to find out they have high blood pressure no one should wait until the eyes let them know that there is a problem with glaucoma.
Glaucoma can happen in a sudden fashion in a condition called Angle Closure Glaucoma. Some people are anatomically predisposed to having this condition occur. The pressures suddenly rise and the eye becomes quite painful. Emergency measures are performed to lower the pressures, which are later followed up by a surgery that will prevent this from happening again.
There is a congenital form of glaucoma that happens in infants but fortunately it is quite rare. This type of glaucoma is caused by incorrect development of the eye’s drainage system before birth. This leads to increased intraocular pressure, which in turn damages the optic nerve.
Symptoms of childhood glaucoma include enlarged eyes, cloudiness of the cornea, and photosensitivity (sensitivity to light).
Some eyes are even damaged by normal pressures in the eye. This condition is called Normal Tension Glaucoma.
The final type of glaucoma is a secondary pressure increase in the eyes caused by other eye diseases or injuries.
Glaucoma is normally detected in a routine eye examination performed by your Optometrist. During a routine examination you eye pressures will be measured as well as your peripheral vision. Your doctor will also determine if you are at risk for the acute form of Glaucoma. The appearance of you optic nerve will also be evaluated. All optic nerves have a small excavation or pit in the center. When a nerve shows a large excavation then further testing must be done to see if this is either a normal for the patient or the if it is due to the nerve dying off due to glaucoma. Any large excavation needs to be evaluated by having an OCT evaluation on the nerve. This is performed in the office and is as easy as having your picture taken. This device differentiates between a normal variation that does not require treatment and true glaucoma. Without this test it is not possible to determine if treatment is necessary. (See http://www.brooksideoptometric.com/services/technology.html for description of this device.) This test is crucial to avoid misdiagnosis of glaucoma and avoid costly therapy when contraindicated.
Patients diagnosed with glaucoma are then put on a daily eye drop therapy that normally reduces the pressure to a tolerable level that will prevent or dramatically slow the damage caused by this disease. The doctors at the Brookside Optometric Group can perform this treatment.
Some cases of glaucoma that are resistant to the drop therapy will then require a referral to a surgeon to have a surgery to help lower the pressure.
Damage from Glaucoma can be prevented. All it takes is to make sure you have your yearly eye examination with your Optometrist to catch this disease in its early stages before irreparable sight loss occurs.