Glaucoma, a group of eye conditions that cause loss of vision, has been called “the sneak thief of sight” because there are no symptoms apart from the actual vision loss—and once vision is lost, it’s permanent. This makes glaucoma not only the second leading cause of blindness in the world, but the leading cause of preventable blindness over all.
Although glaucoma is not just one eye disease, the group of eye conditions is characterized by optic nerve damage. The optic nerve carries images from the eye to the brain, like an electric cable. For those with glaucoma, high pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) causes damage to this cable, resulting in loss of peripheral vision. The progression of this “tunnel” vision is gradual, and as much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing. In its most advanced forms, glaucoma can lead to total blindness.
Risk of developing glaucoma increases with age. Some populations, including Mexican-Americans and African-Americans, have higher risks of developing glaucoma. Family history, long-term corticosteroid use, and medical conditions like diabetes and hypothyroidism can also increase your risk. The best and only way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma is to get your vision checked regularly. For those aged 65 and older, doctors recommend a vision check every six to 12 months. To minimize damage and limit further glaucoma-related vision loss, doctors may prescribe medicated eye drops, or recommend surgery to lessen pressure in the eye.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, so there’s no better time to make sure our family and friends know how to prevent glaucoma-related vision loss. Ensure that the seniors in your life understand that glaucoma-related vision loss can often go unnoticed, and is permanent. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of vision testing, and help raise awareness by reading up on glaucoma at the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s website.