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Be Aware of the Dangers of Glaucoma

To spread the word about the ''sneak thief of sight,'' January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, responsible for 9%-12% of all cases of complete vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Because glaucoma has no early symptoms, research shows that nearly half of those with the disease are not aware of their condition.

Glaucoma is actually a number of ocular diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying images to the brain. Although anyone can develop glaucoma, there are certain groups that are at higher risk such as African Americans above age 40, anyone over age 60, in particular of Mexican ancestry, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma.

Since blindness due to optic nerve damage is irreversible, vision can only be preserved through early diagnosis. This is difficult however, because symptoms rarely manifest before the optic nerve is damaged, and usually begin with an irreparable loss of peripheral (side) vision.

Treatment for glaucoma is determined based on the type of glaucoma and the extent of the nerve damage, and may include pressure-reducing eye surgery or medications, often eye drops. While experts are working hard to find a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore proper diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma is a chronic disease, it is preferable to find an eye care professional experienced in this condition.

According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while glaucoma was known to ninety percent of the people they surveyed, a mere eight percent knew that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only a qualified optometrist can identify the early signs of glaucoma, through a thorough glaucoma screening. A yearly glaucoma screening is the most effective way to prevent damage from this silent disease. Don’t delay in scheduling a glaucoma screening before it’s too late.