January Is National Glaucoma Awareness Month
Glaucoma is the leading cause of permanent blindness. As the US population ages, many experts fear that blindness will become a new health epidemic. For this reason, Glaucoma Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about a disease that many call “the sneak thief of sight.”
Glaucoma currently affects over 3 million Americans. The National Eye Institute estimates that by 2030, that number will increase 58% to 4.2 million.
Many people never realize they have it until it’s too late. That’s because symptoms often go undetected until the disease reaches a critical point. In some cases, patients can lose as much as 40% of their eyesight before realizing they have glaucoma.
Ways You Can Observe Glaucoma Awareness Month
According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), nearly 120,000 Americans have lost their sight due to this disease, which makes up 9% to 12% of all blindness cases.
One way to avoid this is by promoting awareness about this disease and informing the public of the various ways they can protect their vision. Here are a few ideas:
- If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, talk to your friends and family about your experience.
- Share informational infographics and other resources through social media.
- Order a complimentary educational booklet for yourself or somebody else from GRF.
- Participate in awareness events, fundraisers, and other local activities.
- Watch and share educational videos and webinars.
The Importance Of Routine Eye Exams
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), glaucoma is the second-highest cause of global blindness. Open-angle glaucoma, the most prevalent condition, has almost no signs.
Because glaucoma first affects peripheral vision, many people don’t realize anything is wrong until the damage spreads to the rest of the eye.
Although there is no way to prevent this disease from developing, you can take steps to protect your vision. Routine eye exams and early detection are the best way to keep glaucoma from progressing.
What Is Glaucoma?
The GRF defines glaucoma as a “group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning.” While middle-aged and older adults are the most susceptible, this disease can develop at any age.
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which transmits images from the eye to the brain. As the disease progresses and the nerve becomes more damaged, vision loss occurs.
While there is no cure, medicine or surgery can slow or possibly keep patients from losing more of their eyesight. The right treatment depends on a host of factors, including the type of glaucoma present.
What Are The Different Types Of Glaucoma?
Although the two most common types are primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma, there are many other variations. Because signs and symptoms vary based on each type, it can be difficult to catch before it’s too late.
Both POAG and angle-closure glaucoma are characterized by intensifying eye pressure, or intraocular pressure (IOP). This pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, leading to vision loss.
However, people can still lose their eyesight even with normal IOP levels. When this happens, it is known as normal-tension glaucoma (NTG).
In some cases, eye pressure, optic nerve damage, and vision loss occur due to a separate disease known as secondary glaucoma.
Below is some more information about common forms of glaucoma.
Also known as primary or chronic glaucoma, POAG occurs when the angle where the iris and cornea converge becomes enlarged.
90% of glaucoma patients have POAG. Eye pressure increases as the drainage canals in the eye are gradually obstructed. This lifelong condition progresses slowly, often going unnoticed until it’s too late.
Fewer patients are diagnosed with this condition, but it is among the most prevalent type of glaucoma. Like POAG, angle-closure glaucoma occurs when eye pressure rises due to obstructed drainage canals. It is marked by a narrowing of the angle where the iris and cornea meet.
This variation rapidly progresses, making the signs of angle-closure glaucoma more noticeable than POAG. Once symptoms become apparent, patients should seek treatment as soon as possible.
Normal-tension glaucoma occurs even when eye pressure is normal. Researchers are still unsure why some individuals develop this type of glaucoma despite having normal eye pressure. Routine vision checks are important to catch NTG before it becomes too advanced.
Other Types of Glaucoma
This disease manifests in a variety of forms, including:
- Pigmentary glaucoma
- Congenital glaucoma
- Pseudoexfoliative glaucoma
- Traumatic glaucoma
- Neovascular glaucoma
- Uveitic glaucoma
- Iridocorneal endothelial syndrome (ICE)
Who Is Most At Risk Of Developing Glaucoma?
Some groups have a higher risk of developing glaucoma than others, including:
- Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans
- Adults 60 and older
- Individuals with a family history of glaucoma
- Seriously nearsighted people
Glaucoma is the number one cause of vision loss for African-Americans. Compared to Caucasians, this disease is six to eight times more likely to affect African-Americans. In addition, older Latinos have a similar risk of developing this disease.
Preventative Measures For Glaucoma
Being proactive about protecting your vision is the best way to protect it. Even if you develop glaucoma, you can take steps to slow its progression and avoid further vision loss by:
- Scheduling routine dilated eye exams. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests individuals under 40 take comprehensive eye exams every five to ten years. 40- to 54-year-olds should test two to three years, and one to three years for 55- to 64-year olds. Adults 65 and older should take screenings every one to two years. People in the high-risk category should test more frequently.
- Understanding your family history. People who have a genetic disposition for eye problems have a higher risk of developing glaucoma. If you have siblings, parents, or other relatives with this disease, talk to your doctor about routine exams.
- Exercising regularly. According to a study from Ophthalmology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, moderate exercise has been shown to lower eye pressure, potentially stopping glaucoma.
- Eating a balanced diet. Research has found that glaucoma is 20% to 30% less likely to develop in people who consume more leafy greens. That’s because the nitrates these foods contain are converted into nitric oxide, a compound that promotes blood flow and helps control eye pressure.
- Using medicated eyedrops. Glaucoma eye drops are available as a prescription and can dramatically lower the chance that elevated eye pressure will turn into glaucoma. However, for these to work, you must use them regularly. Remember, glaucoma often has no symptoms, so you shouldn’t wait to use them until something’s wrong.
- Wearing eye protection. Eye injuries can also increase your risk of glaucoma. Always wear goggles, glasses, and other protective eyewear when using power tools or engaging in high-speed sports like tennis, racketball, etc.
Protect Your Vision During Glaucoma Awareness Month
Glaucoma is a serious condition that affects millions of people around the world. During National Glaucoma Awareness Month, make sure you and your loved ones are up-to-date on vision screenings.
Since there is no cure, early detection is the most effective way to avoid permanent vision loss. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, using prescribed medications, and wearing protective eyewear during certain activities.
Most importantly, people of every age should make a point to schedule annual or bi-annual eye exams.
For more information about glaucoma, check out our Glaucoma Guide For Seniors.
Vision loss can make it difficult for seniors to maintain their independence. If your aging parent needs assistance with transportation, activities of daily living, or something else, we can help.
A qualified in-home caregiver can give you peace of mind and allow your loved one to gracefully age in place. For more information, call 1-888-541-1136 or learn about hiring a caregiver with Meetcaregivers.
Visit the blog for more resources for seniors and caregivers.
- “Glaucoma Awareness Month.” National Eye Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/glaucoma-resources/glaucoma-awareness-month.
- “Glaucoma Awareness Month.” Eye Care, www.uclahealth.org/eye/glaucoma-awareness-month.
- “January Is Glaucoma Awareness Month.” Glaucoma Research Foundation, www.glaucoma.org/news/glaucoma-awareness-month.php.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Glaucoma.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Oct. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glaucoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20372839.
- “Types of Glaucoma.” Glaucoma Research Foundation, www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/types-of-glaucoma.php.