January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Learn more about the facts, effects, and treatment to this sight-stealing disease.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness. It's estimated that over 60 million people worldwide have glaucoma and this number is expected to grow within the next decade. A family history of glaucoma, racial background, age and co-existing diseases, such as diabetes, are all considered risk factors for the development of glaucoma.
How is glaucoma diagnosed and treated?
Fortunately, glaucoma is generally easily treated with eye drops and occasionally surgical or laser treatments. Unfortunately, like high blood pressure, it is a largely asymptomatic eye disease, showing no symptoms, with patients only noticing visual impairment after significant progression of the disease occurs. Therefore, early treatment and detection of this eye disease is essential in preventing loss of vision
Many patients diagnosed with glaucoma often have normal eye pressure when tested on examination, and although eye pressure is an important determinant of this disease, it is not the only diagnostic factor considered. It is essential to have a complete eye examination including evaluation of the optic nerve in the back of the eye, in order to determine if a patient is at risk for glaucoma, as eye pressure alone is not an adequate marker of this disease.
Evaluation from an Ophthalmologist
An ophthalmologist can evaluate the optic nerve and order further imaging and testing to determine if you are at risk for glaucoma. As we see significantly higher rates of glaucoma after the age of 60, annual eye examinations are recommended to look for glaucoma, as well as cataracts and macular degeneration. As with other eye diseases, glaucoma is much less likely to cause visual loss if it is detected and treated at an early stage before damage can occur.